Tag Archives: courage

To the Wounded and the Weary . . .

Savior, may I learn to love thee . . .

I WANT TO LOOK OUT into their faces. It makes me lose my place in the music for a moment, and I garble a lyric. But the faces. These are my brothers and sisters and I still love them more than words can express, even after all these years since I was their bishop. They are good people–kind and caring–and I’ve seen them welcome all kinds of people into their hearts.

I wish I’d done a better job. A bishop is a shepherd. In that, I fell short. And looking into some of the faces, I remember pain I couldn’t diminish or understand. Each bishop falls short, I suppose. But as a bishop, I never forgot that the members of my congregation, my flock, were not mine. They belonged to the Good Shepherd. And it was not to the handbook, nor to policies and procedures, that I looked when I needed to understand how to take care of them. It was to the life and ministry of Jesus. Whatever the situation, the moral authority of His example carried greater force and clarity than any handbook ever could.

It’s hard to get through this duet. My arm is around Rebecca and I feel her support. She has been at my side through the thick and thin of my spiritual journey and she knows my heart. Singing this duet with her couldn’t feel more natural. But today, this day when so many people are in pain—it is bitter sweet. Because I want them so badly to feel peace and love, but they are not really welcome here. Not anymore.

Walk the path that Thou hast shown . . .

MY SON SHARED A STORY he’d heard last week in Primary about a boy who foolishly strayed from a path to help someone. The moral was this: “Beware of leaving the path, even to help someone.”  As we sat around the dinner table, I offered my own parable. It ended something like this:

“But Father,“ said the son, “if I’d helped those people, it would have required leaving the path.” And the Father answered, “My son, helping those people WAS the path.”

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Pause to help and lift another . . .

DSC_0054WHEN OUR FAMILY LIVED AMONG the outcasts in India, we saw wounds deeper than any leprosy bacteria could have wrought. These people had been cast out. And their children, we were told, reeked of the same stench. Stigma, it seems, passes from parent to child. We could not smell it on them. To us, their children were beautiful and whole. And so were the parents. In my life, I expect no sweeter memories than the ones of my children embracing the leprosy-affected, seeing past the fetid rags and seeping bandages. Seeing my children playing soccer with their children and all of them laughing together. We had to leave our comfort zones, our neighborhood, our flock, to be with them. And in return, they taught us to discover Jesus in every face.

Finding strength behind my own . . .

THERE IS A PRAYER ATTRIBUTED to Saint Francis that I used to say in India. I think of it now.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Savior may I love my brother . . .

REBECCA IS CARRYING THE MELODY now, and I’m singing a third below. The piece is actually for SSA, but we made it work. I have to sing up an octave here and there, and I jump from the alto to the second soprano and back now and then. It’s not what’s written, but it’s working. It’s the music that matters, after all. The message of love we’re trying to share.

I’m thinking about all the people in pain. My friends who are getting married this upcoming weekend, one of them a believing Mormon who wants her children to grow up to cherish the gospel as she cherishes it. And hearing how this policy stabs them to the core. Other straight allies who’ve invested years reaching out to their gay loved ones to assure them they can find God’s love here in our Church. And of course the children. For them, an official policy of exclusion which isn’t even applied to the children of rapists, murderers, ex-mormons, felons, or even (shudder) Democrats.

I don’t know why these policies were put in place, but I do know how they will affect the children. It will be just like India. They will be made to feel as if something about them is contagious, something reeks, and the only way to rid themselves of the stench will be to move out of their homes and disavow their parents’ disease.

I want the history books to include this detail: When this policy was leaked to the public, my Facebook feed was filled with good people, mostly Mormons, letting the gay community know their phones would be on all night, that they could call, could reach out, in case any of them were thinking of taking their own lives. I want the history books to show that the policies of our leaders did not reflect the highest values of the people they have been asked to lead. They issued policies and we posted suicide hotlines.

My voice breaks. I’m supposed to join Rebecca on the last stanza. I’m supposed to sing, Savior, may I love my brother. I can’t get it out. There is literally nothing that will come out of my mouth. The piano accompaniment slows down for the last line.

Lord, I would follow Thee.

I’M TOLD THIS IS A TIME for choosing loyalties. That we need to stand with the Church and its leaders, that this is a war, and we have to choose which side we’re on. I don’t know what that means. What do they mean when they say my commitment is being tried? My commitment to which values? Higher laws, or lesser laws? What do they mean when they say I must remain loyal? Loyal to whom? To man or God?

I’m disappointed when the highest principle my Mormon friends can point to at times like this is obedience to rules and policies. Jesus’ example stretches my morality beyond rule-following to something higher. To love. His example calls me to recognize when lower laws ought to yield to higher laws. His example suggests that sometimes we too must put ourselves in a position to stop the stones of judgement from bruising another brother or sister.

Forgotten ManSo whom will I follow? And if Jesus, where am I willing to follow Him? Am I willing to leave the ninety and nine? Am I willing to leave the path to lift the wounded and the weary?

For all who have left and our leaving, I understand. I love you. I know you have not left the path. For the true path is discipleship, and that may lead some of you to the leper, the lonely, and the outcast. He may lead you from gilded temples to soup kitchens, from mega-malls to homeless shelters. You may lose the upper seats in the synagogues, but you will recover your soul. And to those who stay, you too are disciples. You make sure there is space, even if you have to push the boundaries and stretch the tent cords to make room for everyone who shows up, no matter who they are and what others say about them.

My voice isn’t back when we come to the final phrase. Rebecca’s hand squeezes mine. But I’m singing it in my heart. No one else can hear it, but it’s there:

“Lord, I would follow Thee.”

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Pride of Lionesses: My experience standing in line with Ordain Women

On April 5th, I stood with devout Mormon women from across the globe who’d gathered to the Tabernacle for the chance to ask their prophet a simple question: “Will you ask God if there’s room for us, too?”

I was cold. We’d been pelted with hail during our silent procession from City Creek Park to the gates of Temple Square and when I had tried to yank an umbrella from one of the many women who’d had the foresight to bring one along, her kick to my groin put hail stones in their proper perspective. I suspect she’d been a feminist for many years.

I was cold. We were all cold. But I was a man, and as a man I’d be let into the Priesthood Session of General Conference where it was warm and my groin would be safe from feminists asserting their right to keep and bear umbrellas. I toyed with the idea of waltzing in, past these women who’d come from all over, and claiming my birthright. But I was there to support them, to stand with them. Plus, the sun had come out.

Peek

We formed an orderly line that wrapped 3/4 of the way around the Tabernacle. Our group had entered Temple Square reverently, yielding to passersby, and now each women waited patiently for her turn to ask the usher for admittance. I would later be appalled to read the Church’s Public Relations statement misrepresenting the tone and tenor of the event, but the particular woman dispatched by Headquarters to meet each woman at the door couldn’t have been more gracious as she denied their requests. She listened. She held their hands and looked deeply into their eyes as each woman shared her commitment to the Church and her faith that God may be willing to let them participate as equals in Church leadership. With her profusion of coiled copper hair, and a speck of imagination she could have been Merida from Brave. Perhaps at any moment she’d sweep back her cloak, revealing the stout bow she’d use to fend off any male resistance as she granted this band of fellow women safe passage into Priesthood Session.

But if she had a bow, she kept it stowed. Well, a hero anyway. When the security men grew impatient, she insisted on staying until she had heard the request of every single woman, individually. I have no idea if this woman agreed or disagreed with Ordain Women’s mission, but that evening “Merida” fulfilled her own baptismal covenant to “comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”

Still, there were hearts breaking. Most of the woman had hoped—against all probability—that by standing in line, by demonstrating their own sincerity, the Church leadership would make room for them that night. It was the previous prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, who’d first prompted this desire to faithfully declare their readiness for the priesthood. In 1997, a question had been posed by a reporter: Could the policy of denying the priesthood to woman someday be overturned, as it was for blacks two decades earlier?  “Yes,” President Hinckley answered, without equivocation, “but there’s been no agitation for that.” So now, like Dr. Seuss’s minuscule Whos, these Mormon women were saying, in effect, We are here. We are here. We are here.” Would a Horton hear them? And if so, would their collective voice be summarily dismissed or earnestly considered?

The irony is, contrary to the general perception among Mormons that these women evidently lack faith as well as a fundamental testimony of how the Church “works,” it seems to me these women understand better than most of us how it works. They understand that the Church’s greatest strength is its claim to receiving continuing revelation. They understand that the Church is bound neither by scriptural precedent nor by tradition. What was once considered doctrinally binding is overruled in light of new revelation. An awareness of Church history reveals a pattern of radical and dynamic change as doctrines are abandoned, policies overturned, and new revelations replace old ones. Yes, they understand that only their prophet is invested with the authority for such pronouncements, but it’s with that conviction that they are asking that same prophet to earnestly approach God on their behalf.

Some have harshly criticized Ordain Women for this, but anyone who believes it is wrong to ask the Prophet to “inquire of the Lord,” might benefit by revisiting that body of revelations known as the Doctrine and Covenants, nearly each page of which came forth because the early Saints importuned Joseph Smith to discover God’s will on subjects great and small. Not everyone was pleased with the answers the founding prophet came back with, but there was no shame in asking. That was the point of having a prophet. “Inquiring of the Lord” used to be the essential spirit of Mormonism. That spirit has been eroded, replaced by the comforting fiction that we somehow have all the answers. While this “A Bible? A Bible? We already have a Bible” mentality may be reassuring, it is ultimately a retardant to spirit growth, both personally and institutionally.

The openness to receive new ideas can come only when we are willing to let go of old ones, when we recognize that our apprehension of Truth is incomplete. Faith operates on the principle that we don’t know for certain but are nonetheless willing to act, despite our imperfect understanding. My Buddhist practice enjoins a frank recognition of our limited understanding and the willingness to learn from others. A passage from The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, avowed by those about to be ordained into Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Inter-being, reflects this ethic:

 

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions. . . . We are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to . . . being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom.

Compassionate listening? Deep looking? Being open to others’ experiences? When we form a community, these are the gifts we freely share. It fosters love and unity. As I stood with these women last Saturday, it wasn’t because we shared the same belief about Priesthood ordination. Truthfully, my opinion on the subject is too nuanced and tentative to explain here, and besides, my own opinion isn’t relevant. I was standing with them because they were my sisters. I’d made a covenant to stand with them. Because they’d been scorned, because they’d been ridiculed, because they were being despised, oppressed, beaten up in the house of their friends. I went to offer my presence, my heart.

But it turns out that I was the one who was inspired. In these women, I found heroes worthy of the next generation of Latter-day Saints. I saw the questing spirit burning bright, and courage marching like a pride of lionesses.

Speaking of heroes, I’ll wrap up with something fun. Before I’d left my house to drive up to Salt Lake, my wife extracted a promise from me that I wouldn’t end up on the evening news. (Yes, these are the conversations we have whenever I leave the house with that . . . look in my eye.) So when the camera crews showed up at City Creek Park, I stayed out of the way. When newspaper reporters pulled out notepads and asked attendees to comment on their involvement, I slipped into the shadows.  But after the event was over, and people were dispersing, I happened to be waiting for the light to turn so I could cross the street from the Temple of the Lord to the Temple of Capitalistic Excess known as City Creek Mall. Kate Kelly, one of the leaders of the Ordain Women movement, was wrapping up a media interview. I lingered for a minute, out of view, until the reporters had finished.

Maybe it was because I’d felt so hopeful on Temple Square, with its fields of yellow tulips springing up, and the perfume of hyacinths, that now, leaving, I sensed a fatalistic gloom come over me. More to shake off my own disappointment than anything, I turned to Ms. Kelly as she was stepping away from the cameras and shouted the following:

 “Thank you for giving my daughters heroes!”

I brought my hands together in the lotus position I’ve come to associate with deep reverence. Then I turned to go. But suddenly there was a flurry of motion. Someone with a camera turned towards me, and a man with digital recorder swooped in. “What did you mean just now?” he pressed. “Do you agree with the Ordain Women movement?” It was so quiet. I don’t know if these people were from a network, or if they were independent documentarians or what. My wife’s plea rang through my head: Please, Lon, whatever you do up there, just don’t get yourself on the news. My mouth had opened to respond, but it just stopped, mid-glottal. Lamely, I brought my hand up to cover the camera, like a politician fallen from grace, and slinked away.

That night, as my wife was idly scrolling through the Ordain Women Twitter feed on my phone, I was recounting how, in deference to her wish for me to lay low, I had refused to elaborate on my spontaneous expression. Not half a minute later, she said, “Oh my gosh, look at this.” She held up my phone. The tweet, from Rolf Straubhaar said:

Favorite quote from a passing man: “Thank you for giving my daughters heroes.”