This week a team that was initiating a new project at my workplace came into town, and as part of the initial get-to-know-you activities, we all spent an evening together at a local sports bar. I decided that this time I would order an alcoholic beverage. However, I hadn’t thought it through beforehand, and when I stepped up to the bar and the barkeeper asked me what I would like to drink, I had no idea what to say. “Um … something with alcohol in it?” didn’t exactly sound like the sort of thing one says at a bar. So instead of ordering, I said, “Yeah. Gimme a minute to decide.” I spent the next few seconds searching deep into my lore of alcohol, and coming up empty, I texted Girlfriend: “I’m at the bar and have no idea what to order. Any suggestions?”
While waiting for her response, my coworker arrived and sat next to me. He effortlessly ordered a Blue Moon, and I quietly explained my dilemma to him: “I want to drink something, but I’ve never ordered at a bar before. Got any ideas?” He told me since I’d never drunk beer before, I probably wouldn’t like the flavor, but recommended maybe I start with Coors Lite, since it would be the mildest. I asked if he enjoyed any other kinds of drinks than beer, and after considering it a moment, he said his favorite was probably rum and coke. Short of any better ideas, I decided I’d give it a try. I placed my order and as I was waiting for the drink to come, my coworker asked the obvious question: why had I decided to drink that night? I mumbled something about having left the church, and he asked the next obvious question: what had caused me to abandon my religion? I’m sure he must have thought he had somehow been transported to the local aquarium, because I did my best impression of a fish: wide unblinking eyes with my mouth opening and closing several times without saying anything. It was only then that I realized: I have no idea how to be the ex-Mormon in the elevator.
What I mean is, I didn’t have my elevator speech ready. You know: you get on the elevator and as the doors close you notice that by chance you’re with someone to whom you’ve long wanted to convey some piece of information. You realize you’ve got just 30 seconds before the doors open and that person steps off. What do you say? In this case, my elevator was a stool at a bar. But the same principle applies. How many tens of thousands of words have I expended here on this blog trying to explain the amazingly difficult journey I’ve been through as I’ve come to the realization that the church is not true? How many hours have I spent talking with other Mormons and trying to explain my concerns with the history and doctrine of the church? How many nights have I spent staring at the ceiling trying to work through in my own mind my new approach to life? Even though I am intimately familiar with the answer to his question, I realized that I had no way to explain it in a concise and simplified way that would accurately convey the key information without being either too confusing or too convoluted for this informal discussion as we sat together at the bar.
I knew he didn’t have enough of a background understanding of the Mormon religion for me to talk about specifics. I couldn’t say “Book of Abraham” or “sanitized history” or “Blacks and the priesthood.” Even saying, “questions of divine authority” would probably be too large of a leap for the type of conversation appropriate for the situation. In the end, I stammered something about having doctrinal concerns that led me to question my very belief in God, and that I now considered myself an atheist. At the mention of the word atheist he averted his eyes and quickly changed the subject.
My drink came, and as I sipped at it, I became more and more dissatisfied with my answer. Atheist is such a dirty word. I think it’s good to expose people to the word, but perhaps it can be done in a more subtle manner. It’s too easy to just blurt the word out. And then it’s too easy for people to immediately dismiss you once they label you as atheist. Oh. Well, he’s atheist, so obviously he’s going to think that.
A text came back from Girlfriend: “Shirley Temple. Screwdriver. That’s all I know.” I wasn’t really enjoying the rum and coke, so after I finished it, I ordered a screwdriver. I had no idea what it was, but I decided it sounded a little more macho than a Shirley Temple. I watched as it was made: vodka and orange juice. Much better tasting than a rum and coke. And I started to feel a bit of a buzz. I began feeling a little dizzy as I sat there drinking it. Since this was my first time out drinking, I decided to limit myself to two alcoholic drinks in the interest of safety.
I spent the rest of the evening mulling over two disparate thoughts: how do I know if I am too drunk to drive home? and how could I have responded better? To answer the first question, I decided to walk to the bathroom and monitor my motor skills. I felt a little dizzy, but didn’t bump into anything or feel like I was in any danger of tipping over. I emptied my bladder and didn’t struggle with the zipper or soil myself in the process. I even double-checked that I was using the urinal and not a potted plant or a waste bin. I looked at my reflection in the mirror as I washed my hands. Eyes looked normal. I quietly mouthed a few words to myself. No slurred speech. Success. I felt confident that when the time came to drive home, I’d be just fine.
To answer the second, I decided that I needed to prepare my elevator speech. I thought about it over the next couple of days, and I think I now have a better idea of the elements it should contain. In the future, if I find I have to quickly explain my estrangement from the church, I hope to answer something like this:
“From a very young age I was inculcated with a strong faith in the tenets of my religion. When I learned of discrepancies in both the official history of the early church as well as its scripture, I realized I could no longer believe in the central truth claims of the church. In my expanded struggle to find truth, I discovered that all religions suffered from the same irremediable problem of relying on unsubstantiated claims of divine guidance. I now find it far more rational to accept the secular humanist approach to life than to believe in the anthropomorphic god of the bible.”
Ding. I believe this is your floor?