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Watch Where You’re Walking

Back in the late 70s I remember hearing a talk in church about the gospel being like a fast moving train. The premise of the talk was that here in the last days those who got off the train would never be able to make it back on and would be left behind. The speaker mentioned that in years past people could leave the train for a while and go off and experiment a bit with life and the world, and when they were ready they would be able to hop back on the train, lessons learned. But those days are gone, and he cautioned us that those who get off the train are in danger of never making it back onboard. I remember sitting there thinking why would anybody want off?

Years later I was on a train going across the midlands of England when for no apparent reason we came to a rather quick stop in the middle of nowhere. I told the person next to me that I thought we were being robbed. She laughed. Turns out we were. Even though the signs were there, I didn’t look for the exit. I sat there and waited for the men to come into our car. I figured things would be ok because after all we were missionaries so nothing bad would happen to us. And so I sat there and waited for the train to start moving again.

My Journey on the LDS express turned out to be a lot like that evening in England. While traveling happily along, occasionally the train would seem to stop for no apparent reason, alarm bells would sound and I would convince myself it was fine. Sure enough the train would get moving again. A few years back I had that old familiar feeling that the train was losing speed. But this time would be different, this time I was not going to let it slow. And so to strengthen my testimony, give more steam to the engine, I dove into church history. Turns out I didn’t need to wait for the train to slow because I was about to open the door and jump.

It would be nice if the Latter-day Express came with a car that would allow the non-believer room to ride a long, keep their family together, and still have that wonderful community that makes up Mormonism. But only believers are allowed on this train, leaving you with two options, stay and fake it, or get off. I am pretty sure I have sprained an ankle, hit a few rocks, and I am still nowhere near the end of my tumble. For everyone who gets off the Latter-day Express the reasons are different. How they choose to disembark also varies. Some walk safely off at the next station as the train slows, others find the emergency pull cord and bring the whole thing to a screeching halt while everyone they are traveling with yells and screams and demands answers. And then they make their exit. Others like me just jump off in the middle of night and wait for everyone to figure out that I haven’t just left the car momentarily to go to the bathroom, I’ve left the train.

The fascinating part is that as train cars pass good intentioned friends hang out the window and ask “What the heck are you doing? Look at you walking, you could get lost out there. Now just get back on the train, and stop being silly.” Should you come across a rattle snake or be in need of water, they are quick to hang out the window and say “Well what did you expect would happen? If you had just stayed on the train…” Night comes, it always does. In the distance wolves howl and it’s easy to lay there in the dark remembering the safety and shelter of the train, because mixed with the night sounds of the howling wolves is the persistent chug of the engines that once rocked you to sleep; destination, destination, destination… It’s tempting to run back to the certainty of what’s familiar. Some do.

As a passenger on the Mormon Express it doesn’t matter what’s going on outside the windows of the train, what’s important is that you reach your destination. Destination, destination, destination…the train whispers on its way down the tracks. You’re not happy--it’s ok, you will be. There is nothing you need that is not on this train. Being really happy, isn’t what’s important in this life, enduring this train ride to the end, that’s where real happiness is. That’s where eternal happiness is. It’s sad isn’t it, how those not on this train think they are happy, but we know, ooohhhh we know, that without the safety of this train no one’s happiness lasts forever.

The big question ticket-bearing passengers ask me is how am I going to get to my destination? They want answers; they want to know I at least have a plan. Which is ironic since no other mode of transportation in this life is acceptable to them how could I give them a good answer? I tell them I don’t know, but I know it won’t be on that train.

It’s common to hear church members make the comment that those who have left the church can’t seem to leave the church alone. It’s like they think I’m going around with my spray can painting graffiti on the sides of the cars. Many who jump would love to leave the train far behind, but those tracks run through every aspect of our lives. When your whole family is still on the train, you don’t wander far from the tracks. Many jumpers lay in bed each night with a ticket-holding spouse and huge piece of track lying between them. So yes, for many jumpers our new course never veers too far from the tracks, but at least we are free to travel as we choose.

I honestly believe that once you get off the train it allows you to focus on the journey. The world outside of the train is nothing like what I was told. There are good non-train riding people on bikes, skateboards, cars, airplanes, golf carts and even people who are content to go it alone without any assistance and walk it--all fellow travelers, enjoying the journey, enjoying their families, their communities and living lives of integrity.

For me the word destination no longer reverberates throughout my whole being. I prefer to travel without the aid of any ecclesiastical help. So for now, I’m walking this journey. In the fall and rise of my footsteps it’s not longer about what I hear; it’s about all that I see. It’s about my choices being mine to own and dealing with life and consequence in the here and now. Hopefully my choices make my journey and the journey of those around me more enjoyable. If you have left the Latter-day Express, I hope you find a mode of transportation that allows you to enjoy the journey. As long as we can do that, the destination will take care of itself.


C. L. Hanson said...

Note that this post has been nominated for a Brodie Award for insightful discussion of Mormon culture. You can vote for it here. (Some other posts by the same author were also nominated.)

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