Over the past several weeks, I’ve been putting a lot of work into adjusting my online presence, a project that I expect to last through most of the summer. In dividing my website into distinct subareas and pivoting from a single Twitter account to a number of Mastodon accounts, I’m trying to do something about the context collapse that’s been keeping me from sharing some of the big things going on in my life lately.
Starting in January 2019, I had some experiences that made me wonder whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the right place for me or—more especially—for my family. In March 2020, when my local Latter-day Saint congregation stopped meeting because of COVID-19, I started regularly attending Community of Christ instead, and about a year ago, I decided to be confirmed into that denomination. This is a big transition in my life, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to write about, but my Twitter audience is divided between academic/education Twitter and Mormon Twitter. I didn’t feel like the first audience was necessarily interested in this story, and while the second might be, it still felt like a big hurdle to clear.
One of the steps that I’ve recently taken to try to be more open about this change in my life is to be interviewed on an episode of the Project Zion podcast, which serves as a quasi-official podcast for Community of Christ. My episode is part of a series where people tell the stories of how they came to join the denomination. I’m happy with the story that I’ve told there, but this kind of change is a big one, and I think that I could tell the story twelve different times and tell it twelve different ways. Part of what got me to write this particular post was a reminder of another way that I would tell this story.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from the Mormon Land Patreon page with the text of a Salt Lake Tribune article in it. I love the Mormon Land podcast from the Tribune, but I love the Patreon set up even more: For $3/month, I get all the Mormon coverage from the paper without the sports or local news which—as a Kentuckian who doesn’t care about sports—just doesn’t appeal to me. Anyway, this particular article contained a passage about a recent sermon by the president of the Church that stood out to me:
“These truths ought to prompt your ultimate sense of FOMO — or fear of missing out,” he said. “You have the potential to reach the Celestial Kingdom [the faith’s highest heaven]. The ultimate FOMO would be missing out on the Celestial Kingdom, settling for a lesser kingdom because here on Earth you chose only to live the laws of a lesser kingdom.”
This passage stood out to me because it reminded me of another way that I could tell this story of why I’m now practicing in Community of Christ. When I was twelve years old, I attended a stake youth activity that purported to take us through the plan of salvation; we began in the premortal life, followed the iron rod throughout mortality while blindfolded and being “tempted” by some of the older youth, and then depending on how we did, were assigned to some representation of life after death. I made the mistake of saying “no, thank you” to one of the tempters along the path, and this was apparently enough to be whisked off to spirit prison, a dark set of classrooms where we could hear the person playing God addressing the righteous people in the chapel.
I don’t think most of the people in this room were fazed by the experience, but it struck a kind of existential terror into my heart. Over the next several years, I would look back on this as a positive experience—I had an “ultimate sense of FOMO,” and I was committed to using that memory of disappointment to being the perfect Mormon and ensuring that I wouldn’t ever experience this feeling of failure ever again.
Fast forward a couple of decades, though, and it was becoming clear that the Church was no longer a great place for my family. I was thinking about sticking around, but my wife was on her way out, and I was entirely supportive of that. This started to trigger that “ultimate sense of FOMO” again, and in a way that made it clear how unhealthy that idea was. I knew that my family no longer corresponded with the Latter-day Saint family ideal, and I knew that according to Latter-day Saint teachings, that meant eventually feeling that same existential terror—I had failed, I would be missing out in an ultimate way, and it terrified me. I had trouble sleeping. I would break down crying in church or at the temple. I was supportive of my family no matter what, but it felt more and more like the Church wasn’t supportive of me or my family in the same way. Either we met the criteria, or we would experience the ultimate missing out. Ultimate FOMO no longer felt like a motivator to live my best life but rather a creeping terror that constantly whispered in my ear that I was a failure.
I quickly found that I preferred the perspective of Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal, an Anglican Chaplain who attended a General Conference at Elder Jeffrey Holland’s invitation and had this to say about a President Nelson talk that had also given me a lot of anxiety during this time of transition:
There’s a sort of wild hope—When President Nelson was talking, I think it was President Nelson who was talking about the difference between individual salvation for all and the sealing. Sitting there as a non-member, not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I thought “that’s a bit sad because actually I’d quite like to be sealed with my family eternally.” There’s a sense in which, well, thinking about it, praying about it, there was a real sense of the very impulse to love and to trust in God’s capacity to bring everything into perfection and harmony. That’s the wager that I want to put everything I am on.
Hope is one of my favorite religious ideas, and I had long clung to it in a Latter-day Saint context. It felt more and more, though, like hope was reserved for only those who did things perfeclty right, and that there was no hope left for me and my future. I longed to feel this wild hope that Reverend Dr. Teal spoke of. Eventually, of course, I did find that hope in Community of Christ.
This is a long and jumbled way of saying that I don’t feel like an ultimate sense of FOMO is healthy. It seemed to work for me during a long part of my life, but only while I was convinced that missing out was really not in the cards for me. Once I got to a point where I was happy with the way my family was but the Church wasn’t, that ultimate sense of FOMO took the form of existential dread that drained me. If I’m in Community of Christ now, it’s because I don’t believe in a God that wants that existential dread for me. I believe instead in a God of grace and generosity, and I’ve found them elsewhere.
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