In our Young Women's class today, the teacher showed the girls the Church videos for their Christmas season focus #lighttheworld. I generally have a pretty bad attitude about inspirational videos in general- cause videos, cute animal videos, spiritual videos, whatever. I have a hard time not picturing the 'emotional journey' maps we would make back in my fundraising days and imagining marketing departments and filmographers mapping music and scenes accordingly. Feel inspired? Bah Humbug.
THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS. The theme this year is 'Give as He Gave' and I will admit they moved me. Besides the fact that Church has clearly upped their diversity represesntation game (most clips don't look like they were filmed in Utah by white Utahns), what struck me is that lighting the world is a principle of action. Too often, we talk about charity and Christlike behavior as one of simply being kind. Smiling at people, sitting by them, being generally positive. All good things, no doubt about it. But we get lulled into passive goodness. What I see in these videos is action: giving, shoveling, break-dancing for the elderly. A young boy makes a makeshift Christmas tree for his family, musicians play music on a street corner, donated goods are collected, sorted, and handed over.
Giving as Christ gave can be an attitude of kindness, but at it's core, it must take action.
Today I watched General Conference and was particularly moved by the talk given by Bonnie Cordon. She recounts the scripture from Matthew 25:34-39:
"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?:"
She stops before reading the familiar "ye have done it unto me" verse and says:
"Brothers and sisters, the key word is SAW. The righteous saw those in need because they were WATCHING and NOTICING we too can be a watchful eye to aid and comfort, to celebrate and even dream."
She then talked about how someone who she knew reached out to the husband of a woman who attempted suicide. He had an awkward conversation with a man in a difficult emotional situation and instead of bringing brownies, he recommended we "walk into the moment with honesty and love."
I was immediately struck by the words SEE, WATCH, and NOTICE. How often do we watch, and really see how people are in need? Honestly, it's hard to. HELPING PEOPLE IS AWKWARD. Well, if you guess needs right it's not awkward, but we're so often guessing. We live in a society that glorifies independence. Showing vulnerability is hardly common, and when it is shown, it's not usually accompanied by an ask for help. It is hard to notice when people are struggling and it's hard to walk into a situation we may think we're noticing with honesty, love, and anything but awkwardness.
I recently joined twitter. It's awful. I barely get it. I feel like I'm a new kid in a very enormous, pithy, often hostile junior high school. But I wrote this book that feels important and all the experts say to figure out twitter. SO I spent a good chunk of conference in my sweats watching the people live tweeting conference and the hours after watching people's reactions.
I'll tell you what I notice:
-We love to be critical (sometimes for good [i.e. seriously WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN SPEAKERS], sometimes because it's fun to complain)
-We love to be critical of people who are critical (seriously, hey POT, meet KETTLE. Being critical of people trying to make the Church better is not the same as defending the Church)
-Twitter is a great place to catch the best quotes, sometimes already with inspiring nature backdrops.
AND, most devastating:
-OUR GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY IS IN PAIN
It feels insane that some of the most prominent leaders of the Church can't see that yet another talk that feels heavy-handed and full of exclusionary language is a huge part of what causes pain. And don't give me any of the 'Jesus threw out money-changers in temple so throwing down is totally acceptable and awesome' rhetoric. Elder Oaks' talk was 90% inspiring and awesome. It is a great reminder to me of the power of simply stating truth. But, as I would expect a man as educated and eloquent as Elder Oaks would know, statements on gender, sexuality, and family are going to provoke, not just the wrath of anti-Mormons (which I'd expect him not to care about), and the self-loathing of church members who identify as a different gender, are attracted to their own sex, and who can't have children.
I will admit that to me, a straight woman with kids, the talk didn't make me want to kill myself. I cringed a bit, sure, but I've been dealt the easy hand in this regard. But this does not matter. What matters is that I've started watching the reaction in the communities of people I'm just getting to know, and what I see is that the gender/sexuality throw-down makes people hate themselves. Makes people want to kill themselves. (PLEASE DON'T!!) And there aren't enough brownies in the world I could bring to the people who want and need comfort and who, because of the tone of the speaker, were less likely to hear and be comforted by the promise also given in the talk, that God "HAS PROVIDED A DESTINY OF GLORY FOR ALL HIS CHILDREN"
Elder Oaks asks us to question the motivation of people who talk about truth and knowledge. Here's my motivation: I see that LGBT individuals in the Church community are trying SO SO hard to participate. SO many have had spiritual confirmation that God created them, as His beloved spirit children, with the gender and attraction that the Church has asked them not to acknowledge. I don't have answers to their questions of how to be included or how to reconcile it all. But I hope they know that I see them.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we take the first Sunday of every month as a sort of open-mic for what we call bearing testimonies. Basically, you say what you feel, maybe an experience you've had that has increased or challenged your faith. It can be a bit random and long-winded at times, but on the whole, it's one of my favorite parts of our service. People speaking from the heart about wanting to be better and how they are connecting with God and the divine.
In publishing Romy & Julia, feel like I need to make sure to make clear what I believe. The book calls into question some of the flaws the Church and its membership. And, as a Church and membership, we have a bit of a persecution complex. Some of it's deserved (extermination order and all that), but I think a lot of times we get our bristles up at any and every criticism without thinking through it first. It's important to me to get through those bristles, so let me make it clear:
I have a testimony of God, the Eternal Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
I have a firm conviction in the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith. I believe that a hundred and fifty years ago, Joseph Smith sought truth and found it.
I believe past and present leaders of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, known by most as the LDS Church, have tried with all the best intentions to align the Church with the will of God.
I have room in my faith and understanding of the eternal nature of the world and fallibility of mankind for imperfection and outright mistakes. I have hope for improvement acknowledgment of mistakes. I pray for patience.
I know that I was inspired by God to write this book.