A few years ago a Muslim friend of mine made a pilgrimage to Mecca, birthplace of Muhammad and site of the holiest shrine in the Islamic world. This journey is expected of all able Muslims at least once in their lifetime and was highly anticipated by my friend. He knew I was a Mormon and asked me about sacred sites that we have and pilgrimages that we make. Thoughts of Palmyra and the sacred grove, the Kirtland Temple and Nauvoo filled my mind with pleasant and spiritual thoughts. But it was Utah that gave me mixed feelings.
The majority of my family joined the church in Wales and settled in Southern Idaho. Though I was born in Moscow, Idaho where my father attended college I spent the first 10 years of my life in Utah. Because of my father’s employment, we moved to the east coast in the late ‘80s where most of us still live until this day. The move was difficult for us at first but we soon learned to love living east of the Mississippi. My father attributes the move to saving his testimony and lifting him out of the rut of complacency. I appreciate the many different kinds of friends I have gained and feel better able to understand different cultures and viewpoints. What began as a real struggle to adjust to life outside Mormon country developed into a sense of pride in our new found home. My father, the architect of the great exodus, has enjoyed the diversity of political affiliation and the many different job opportunities while my brothers and I have mostly attended eastern universities and began raising our families here. My mother who vowed to return to the West for her retirement years has now accepted the fact that none of her grandchildren will be there. What has developed in my family is not a hatred for all things Utah (we all still root for the Utah Jazz) but an attitude that what we want out of life can be found elsewhere. My wife has declared that she would never want to raise her children in Utah. A member friend of mine was recently transferred to Utah because of his job and at the end of an email wrote, “…but they told us that we would only have to stay for a short time.” In addition to these feelings by my friends and family, I often hear it from others. When asking where new ward members come from, the response is often, “Oh, just Utah”. I also hear the disclaimer response, “I’m from Utah but I lived in (insert cooler state) until I was 12. Unlike Muslims who long to return to the land of Muhammad, or Jews who wait for the day they gather in Israel, I increasingly hear of Mormons who cannot flee the Wasatch Front fast enough. What is it about Utah that repels so many of us?
p.s. If this post is a little too anecdotal for you – blame Rusty.