Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Use the Fourth
Remember in my initial post about how I struggled for several years after a family member said something that deeply hurt? Well, it started out with one struggle and it eventually grew into a host of painful issues for me. To be specific: I couldn't understand or accept the injustice of blacks and the priesthood, or the reconciliation of homosexuality and our traditional family church. These things began to eat away at me. Thoughts on these topics were in a constant replay cycle in my head. They just made me more and more upset. Of course I went to that bastion of reliable information, the internet, to find evidence that my indignation was justified. When I showed up at church, I wasn't expecting a good experience, I was simply there to survive.
I told myself the reason I felt so bad was because I had taken upon myself a glorious burden to get to the bottom of these issues, to fight for the underdog, and seek justice for all. I was a modern Mormon superhero of sorts. -- Even a Colombo of Church history. I was getting to the bottom of things while everyone else slept in ignorance!
These sorts of feelings put a wedge between oneself and the officiators of Church business. These feelings can quickly demonize Church leaders, leading one to believe they are the barrier to progress instead of the channels through which progress can be achieved. The vapors of these sentiments billowed around me and I remember feeling uncomfortable sitting next to members of the bishopric and stake presidency the Sunday I was asked to give a talk in my previous ward.
That's when it happened. A big slice of humble pie landed on my plate.
I looked out into the audience from where I sat and saw a black woman taking a seat in the pews. Next to her were two men: One black; the other white. Both were gay. They looked on with hope and reverence for the sacrament meeting that was about to take place.
Their perfect faith overwhelmed me.
If they can show up Sunday after Sunday, why the heck was I moping around like a martyr?
While I didn't come to a happy conclusion about the aforementioned issues in that moment, I felt the need to regroup and reassess. I was, after all, still committed to improving conditions in the church, but now I wanted to honor the faithfulness of those being affected by disparities in the process.
I was able to gain more perspective on this when I was confronted with women's issues in the Church. I'll get right to it: When I learned that there were women championing the cause of Mormon feminists by seeking female ordination I was taken aback. This method was off-putting to me. I wanted improved conditions for women, yes, but not by this method*.
I found myself conflicted because, on the one hand, I couldn't align myself with a group that sought to make a spectacle of my religion; on the other hand, I couldn't deny that some good was coming out of the open forums of debate. I poured through the commentary and learned a lot. The areas for improvement that I had observed were clearly noticed by others, too. Ultimately, my conclusions were this:
1) The participants in these Mormon grass-roots movements generally have good intentions. Their pain is real. We should mourn with those that mourn.
2) But they don't represent me, and they don't represent most Mormon women.
3) They say there's "no other way," except through public pressure and unflinching demands.
4) I say that there is another way. I say we can enact change, but in a more Christ-like way.
Now it's about proving #4, isn't it? This is a time in which we take what good has come from our discussion and push forward with both faith and charity. (Easier said than done, I know.)
How's that going for me? I'll tell you!
Some time ago I was in a Young Women's class and the teacher gave a lesson on modesty using the "licked cupcake method." She suggested that girls who transgressed the laws of chastity were no better than used baked goods. There was a member of the bishopric in the class and he said nothing. I was upset.
Almost everything I read online in feminists circles about working through the proper channels painted that process as treacherous at best. It follows that I was hesitant to even bring up the topic of women's issues in my ward, but found the courage to discuss the cupcake incident with the YW president. She took it seriously and advised me to talk to a member of the bishopric. At this point, it would have been easier to write one of those anonymous "Dear Bishop" blog posts you see going around. -- These are the ones that outline every concern and complaint one might have about her ward (ironically, I don't think the bishops see these**). I could have done that in lieu of a face-to-face encounter, but #4 demands otherwise.
So on one fateful Sunday I approached the same member of the bishopric who was present for the cupcake debacle and told him I needed to meet with him then and there. I didn't sugar coat anything and I got right into it. (Such is my nature.) I demanded answers: "Why didn't you do anything?" I demanded solutions, a treatment plan of sorts. (I wasn't mean about it, but very businesslike.) And what was the response?
Lackluster. It was clear he just didn't understand. And though he didn't mean it, his plan to "fix" things felt more like a pat on the head.
Those vapors of indignation, the same ones I expressed at the very beginning of this very long post came back and surrounded me. All the negativity I had picked up from countless bad experiences retold online settled in. I was about to take that indignation and use it as fuel to champion my cause, my way. . . But between the waves of contention about to crash upon me was a quiet plea to try again. I needed to help this man understand me so that he could serve me, but I needed to do it the Lord's way. I made a choice right then and there not to drown out the Spirit. I tuned my ears, as it were, and what came out of my mouth after that surprised both of us.
I calmly told him he missed the point of what I was saying. And then through sheer inspiration I said something that resonated with him and he looked as if someone had shaken him. With understanding in his eyes, he saw the damage being caused by lessons like the "licked cupcake" and began to feel the pain resulting from it, too. He said, "We have to do something."
And we are. Slowly but surely we're going to make some changes. #4 is rockin' it.
The few times I have told people about this progress it was suggested that I simply "got lucky." I found a "good one." -- But if I hadn't sought revelation, wouldn't I have ended up with my own "Dear Bishop" post? Sure, in this church led by imperfect men, there will be some who approach their bishops and have good experiences and others who feel rejected and misunderstood. This is where grace comes in. The gaps of understanding can be filled in, but it requires patience, listening, and speaking with inspiration. This won't happen when bishops are merely informed of what someone has already settled in his/her mind. Instead, the process is more shoulder to shoulder. It is humble.
I still don't have all the answers regarding the issues that stir me up, but I'll always remember the examples of faith that inspire me to go on. I've made a resolution to seek a better understanding of others, and to peacefully make my/our positions understood, as well. Call me crazy, but I think this is going to work.