Friday, October 6, 2023

A Music Playlist for a Religion Transition

I've always tried to be honest and normalize my faith journey as I've transitioned out of the LDS faith. When friends and family members reach out to me as they go through their own journeys, one thing I always think about is how much art (and specifically music) has helped me through the years. It's been on my mind so much lately that I decided to dedicate a blog post to my SPIRITUAL ELEVATION PLAYLIST and which songs have touched me the most on my hardest days. 

(Progressive Mormon)

The first stage of my crisis was when Mitch first left the church. When someone dear to you like a spouse leaves and you no longer fit the mold, you give yourself permission to ask harder questions. As doctrine begins to clash with personal revelation and you realize that "apostates" are real people you love and no longer fit in the dehumanizing "us vs them" category, things get complicated. I found myself leaning more and more into a progressive perspective. 

All these questions
That we always have
All we are is curious
There's nothing wrong with that
So go 'round every corner
Search every part of the sky
'Cause a life that's full of wonder
Is a wonderful life

I'll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

If there's anyone in a mixed faith marriage, I want to give you a big hug. I remember the heartbreaking fear I used to have that my family would be taken away from me in eternity. It was interesting how I would kneel down and pray, and the comforting personal revelation I always would receive was warmth that everything would be okay, that God loved my family more than I was humanly capable of imagining, and not to waste another moment of this life stressed about what would happen in the next. But then, every Sunday at church or every General Conference, the fear would creep back. People always seemed to drive the emphasis and pressure of making sure your family was doing everything they could to be worthy to be sealed together forever. And I would always get sad and scared again. 

I remember I would blast this song when I was by myself in the car. It would simultaneously give me hope that Mitch would "have a change of heart" and come back to church, and it also somehow gave me comfort that it would be okay if he doesn't. 
You'll follow me back
With the Sun in your eyes
And on your own
Bedshaped and legs of stone
You'll knock on my door
And dark will go
In white light
 I don't think so
But what do I know?
What do I know?

This song haunted me when I was younger and I had first heard it. I had loved the church so much and my whole life believed in consecrating my life to God. I remember this song breaking my brain that someone would voluntarily choose not to go to heaven and, instead, follow an individual into the darkness. Then when Mitch left the church, I began pondering it differently. I remember sitting in the temple one day, and as I listened to the story of Adam and Eve, this song came into my mind. In this scripture story, I realized that Adam made this exact courageous decision. After that, I loved this song.
If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks
I'll follow you into the dark.

I had a BIG obsession with the church's teachings about a Heavenly Mother. It was like a switch that randomly turned on where I was suddenly aching to know more about Her. And with that obsession came more unsettling questions about why we didn't talk about Her more and what my role as a woman actually was in God's plan. 

For whatever reason, I had always associated Heavenly Mother and Divine Femininity with the moon.
She dug her hands in the dirt-filled ground
Grasping for something unseen
Knowing that her powers had no bounds
She held on to the nothing in the leaves
Then suddenly the Earth gave a strong, loud boom
And the dirt on the ground was nowhere to be found
And the girl turned into the moon
The girl turned into the moon

Sometimes the context of a song doesn't match my experience, but there may be one line of lyrics that moves me. This song came out around the same time as the Women's General Conference session where Elder Renlund discouraged members from speculating about Heavenly Mother 
and I. was. crushed.
This was actually the moment where I lost faith in the church leaders. I remember that night BAWLING in the shower, and the words to this song kept playing through my mind. 
Your mom isn't going anywhere
Your mom is staying right here
Your mom isn't going anywhere
Your mom is staying right here
No matter what
I'll be here

(This experience, unfortunately, ended up causing me to let go of the belief in a Heavenly Mother altogether. It was too painful. It got to the point where I would rather She didn't exists at all than be viewed the way Mormonism chose to frame Her and close Her out)

As your faith shakes in the church, from my experience, the message you are constantly being fed is that you need to do better. That there's something wrong with YOU. You're not praying hard enough, you need to read your scriptures more... Whether it's deliberately said by leaders in conference talks or hinted at in Sunday school, it was there. And I would feel SO GUILTY. But I eventually realized I hadn't done anything wrong. I had prayed more and studied harder than I ever had in my life. I was simply asking questions and seeking truth. I was following the example of our founder, Joseph Smith, and asking of God the wisdom I was lacking.

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in

The lyrics to this song... oh my gosh. 😭
Just today one of my SILs was explaining her faith experience and compared her testimony to a dying star. She said how a star burns its very brightest right at the end before it fades away and how she desperately did everything she could to be as spiritual as possible and not lose her faith. This was the same for me. I experienced a supernova. 
Smoke and feathers floating through the sky
Like the tears that you cry
Drops of melting wax rain down like fire
And you're so very tired
So you fall into the waves
Of a thousand questions asked but none explained
And now all, all you can do
Is to trust that I'll be waiting here to carry you
I will carry you

During this whole process I was writing daily in my spiritual journal. I knew that this was a phase, a dark night of the soul, that I would some day come out of with an even stronger testimony that ever before. During this time I had many songs of hope to cheer me up and convince myself that this would all be over soon.

Nina, please believe
That when you find your way again
You're gonna change the world, and then
We're all gonna brag and say we knew her when...

This song I viewed as my relationship with the church. I was supposed to be P!nk... 😂
Just give me a reason
Just a little bit's enough
Just a second we're not broken, just bent
And we can learn to love again

That's what I called them when I talked to my therapist. They would come almost every night before I fell asleep. During the day I was full of hope, but when I'd lie in bed, the weight of my eternal salvation would crush me.

One significant event that overlapped during all of my spiritual struggles was news of the death of someone from my childhood who I grew up with. I found Grant on my mind for weeks, and I was drawn to his music. I have a really special memory where I was all alone on the Wahclella Falls hiking trail, and this song shuffled on. Full volume, when this melody pounds in your ears while strolling through a path of sunlit trees, it feels otherworldly.
I wanna get out
It's getting darker every day
Am I the only one
Who's going insane?
I reach for the clouds
But I fell upon the shore
I feel the lonely waves take me once more

This song actually came out after "the storms" were gone, but it reminds me of what that difficult season was like for me. 
Think I forgot how to be happy
Something I'm not
But something I can be
Something I wait for
Something I'm made for


There was the night I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning. I had found a rabbit hole. It was Brigham Young. I learned all the things about him that were never shared in Sunday school lessons. The chorus on this song is brilliant. Between Mindy's voice and the melody, it somehow exactly expresses what it felt like inside of my body on that night.

Even when you're broken
There are always doors to open
New dimensions to explore
But you won't know
Until you're in a thousand pieces on the floor

This is real. The feelings of betrayal are so real. And listening to music where I felt that my anger was being heard was incredibly healing. 

There was always something extra meaningful when the songs I listened to were written by artists who had an LDS background. You feel more seen. They understand. And Imagine Dragons packs a mean bass drum, and when you're livid, that's what you need rattling your lungs.
First things first
I'ma say all the words inside my head
I'm fired up 
And tired of
The way that things have been-oh

When I watched the music videos to Tyler Glenn's Excommunication album, there were a lot of things in his videos where he took sacred parts of the LDS religion and mocked them. I knew this was something that I was supposed to be incredibly offended by. The church had warned me about "people like this" who are out to destroy the church. But I was surprised that that wasn't my reaction at all to his songs. As I watched, I just kept whispering under my breath, "He's hurting. He's been so hurt." My heart ached for him. I wondered if Christ would have seen him through the same lens that I was.
Bright, I fall and stumble towards the light
I miss the days and nights
We wrestled in my bedroom
My knees will give out soon
I know it's really nothing new

When I watched the film WOMEN TALKING one quote that stuck with me was, "Sometimes I think people laugh as hard as they'd like to cry." 

Trigger warning: This one may be sacrilegious to members. 
But like stated above, sometimes laughter was all I could do to keep from crying. I'd listen to this song and picture Russel M. Nelson singing it with a British accent. It even uses the word "battalion". I can't be blamed. 🤣
You'll be back
Time will tell
You'll remember that I served you well
Oceans rise
Empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion
To remind you of my love

I remember a really rough Saturday General Conference where I experienced my first legit panic attack. Struggled to breathe, sweating, hot flashes, heart pounding, chest pain, dizzy, and randomly had really tingly teeth? IDK. But I realized the next day that I didn't have to torture myself and the world would not end if I skipped a G-Con. While the sessions were going, we went on a nice family hike instead. And I listened to this song the whole time and smiled.
I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn't
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn't love, it isn't hate, it's just indifference
*So... yeah*

I don't think it's a stretch to say that most church members who identify as any sexual orientation outside of The Family Proclamation struggle to find a safe space in the church. As my doubts about my religion continued to expand, one motivation that kept me going was my children. But as my littles grew older, I wondered what would happen if one of them came out to me some day. I began to think of all the statistics... How in the US, studies have shown that Utah had the highest LGBTQ+ youth suicide rates in the nation. IN THE NATION. 
I thought about Abraham and Isaac and how he was willing to sacrifice his own son to God. I wondered, 'what if God wasn't actually commanding him to do this?!? What if Abraham actually had Schizophrenia? What if he was another Daybell case or Lafferty brother and was harming someone he loved in vain?' Most of all, I wondered if he were a mother, if the Bible story would have ended differently.
I decided then that I would have failed the Abraham test. I would have pleaded with God to sacrifice me instead. That's when I made the decision that I didn't want my kids going to church anymore. I'd rather sacrifice my own eternal salvation, than roll the dice and risk my child being another suicide statistic number. 
And I figured, if I really am punished in the next life for it, Jesus believed greater love hath no man than this, that a man (or woman) lay down his life for his friends. If I'm willing to sacrifice my eternal salvation for my kids, maybe I'll get a little extra credit on judgement day.

It was fascinating following David Achuleta's story as he came out and left the church. Our faith journeys overlapped in similar seasons and, although we never met, I kind of felt like we went through this crisis together (with different experiences of course).
I don't wanna feel numb
Falling over all my shadows
Yeah I'm all done
'Cause none of that ever really mattered.

This one reminds me of my cousin who I love dearly. When I think of all the pain he had to experience growing up in a culture where he could never be himself, my heart just breaks. As we've gotten older, I love how close we've come. I love how we've become a safe place for one another, and he really helps me understand his world and what it's like to identify as LGBTQ+.
Well I've been there
Sitting in that same chair 
Whispering that same prayer half a million times
It's a lie, though buried in disciples
One page of the Bible isn't worth a life

There's a lot of thought-stopping exercises that have to mentally take place when your faith is trembling. You don't want to be the weakest link. You're encouraged to doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. I realized that I had never allowed my mind the opportunity to even entertain the idea that the church wasn't true. It was impossible. I even avoided it in my prayers. Then it hit me one day that if God knew me better than I knew myself, I had nothing to hide. I didn't have to lie to myself anymore. I didn't have to lie to God anymore. There was a huge weight off my shoulders the first time I prayed and actually uttered to God, "I don't know if I believe this church is true anymore."

This is another one of those songs where I would just hold on to one phrase and sing it to myself over and over to feel the feels. 
I don't even know if I believe...
I don't even know if I believe...
I don't even know if I believe...

The moment it was real for me, I was sitting cross-legged on my bed. I had a Steve Hassan book in my hand. I learned about humans. What they do in groups. What leaders can do to those groups to make them believe what they need them to believe. I cried and realized I wasn't some extra special soul chosen by God to be in the one true church that would usher in the Kingdom in the last days. I was ordinary. I let the words slip out past my lips,
 "It's not true. And I'm done." 
This was when I finally had the courage to take that first step on my new path.
Let's take the long way home
Love is burning slowly
Down this country road
Every moment holy

Whenever my nonmember friends ask me about my experience, I tell them all how it LITERALLY feels like the Matrix or The Truman Show. My entire universe is flipped upside down. The reality I had believed about my whole life, about my whole eternity disintegrated around me and I have to start all the way over. 

This is my niece's brother. I remember listening to his album when she posted and shared it. I felt like I could relate to the lyrics so much. Pretty sure this is about a past love relationship, but when your thoughts are obsessive and constantly thinking about religion, you find a way to turn everything around you into a parable. 
Is my life a lie?
Do I have a choice?
Maybe I don't even know myself
So where do I go from here?
Where do I go?
Where do I go from here?
I have no idea

My location unknown
Tryna find a way back home
To you again
I gotta get back to you
Gotta gotta get back to you

So many ex-members are just aching for an apology for how they've been hurt. We know from Elder Oaks that the church doesn't do apologies. It's painful when throughout your life you were taught about repentance and forgiveness, of having the courage to go to a person you've wronged and make things right. I wish the institution would lead by example. So much beautiful healing could take place for people with this first step.

Oof. I remember listening to this song and thinking these are the perfect words I wish I could hear from the church. But just hearing the song alone ended up being enough to help me move on. 
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I've tried
To tell you I'm sorry for breaking your heart
But it don't matter
It clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore

Just say I'm sorry
It's not the hardest thing to do
Just say you're wrong sometimes
And I'd believe you 'cause I love you

But then eventually...
You tell me that you're sorry
Didn't think I'd turn around and say
It's too late to apologize
It's too late

It's a challenge when you're in the middle of such an emotional experience, but there are times when what helps me the most is looking outside of myself and remembering the beauty of the institution and how we're all a bunch of humans just trying our best.

I'm just making it up as I go...

You know your place in the sky
You hold your course and your aims
And each in your season returns and returns
And is always the same

I was upset last week when President Nelson cautioned members from trusting advice from anyone who didn't have a strong testimony. Not only is it a missed opportunity for growth hearing others' perspectives, it's dangerous and a big red flag in conforming groups.
Every single Sunday as a teenager I would stand up and recite the Young Women's theme saying I would stand for truth and righteousness at all times and in all things and in all places. Although my perspective of what is truth has shifted, that seed planted inside of me to dare to stand alone is still a big part of who I am. Because of that, I will always try and use my voice to make the world better is the best way I know how. 

Just one voice
Singing in the darkness
All it takes is one voice
Shout it out and let it ring

They aren't gonna help us
To busy helping themselves
They aren't gonna change this
We gotta do it ourselves
They think that it's over
But it's just begun
Only one thing can save us
Only the young

The biggest weight off of my shoulders was when I could shed the layers of doctrine and beliefs that never sat right or felt "spiritually natural" to me. No more mental gymnastics to make parts of the gospel "work". God has become so simple and warm and just full of pure love. Unconditional love. It's not racist or sexist or homophobic or wrathful or obsessed with power... All things I realize now are just the deep insecurities of mankind. My God is not complicated. 

It's up to you, and it's up to me
No one can say what we get to be
So why don't we rewrite the stars?
Say that the world could be ours

I get to keep the good parts of old traditions too. I still love the idea that I existed before this life in some way or form and that I had a relationship with whatever that deity or universe energy mystery was/is.
Snowflake, don't forget us

When I couldn't understand why this whole experiences was so intense and affecting my mental and physical health so much, I remember my therapist telling me, "It's because you've experienced trauma. There are different kinds of trauma. This could be a 'lowercase t' trauma from a bunch of little things that have compiled together over the span of your life." 
After time has passed, I can say it's taken work, but you get stronger and stronger and healing is possible.

100 bad days makes 100 good stories
100 good stories makes me interesting at parties

White houses --er-- white temples...
 Same thing. 
And you
Maybe you'll remember me
What I gave is yours to keep
In white houses
In white houses
In white houses

It's no fairytale, no lullaby
But we get by
'Cause the sun will shine tomorrow
It will be all right





  1. Wow, this is amazing! It was so great to read through your explanation of different phases of your journey. Many things resonated with my own experience. Can't wait to listen to all these fully songs (some I know, most I don't).

  2. Beautifully said I love you alway6. Sherrie French Robertson


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