Tag Archives: stigma

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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Circles of Inclusion: A letter to my community from the leprosy colonies.

BEING WITHOUT AN INTERNET CONNECTION so far from home can feel like being marooned on an desolate island. The tower that connects us to our loved ones was overthrown in a violent storm a few weeks ago. We’d only been in the remote village here in India for a day and half when a tropical gale ripped the tower from its rusting anchors and hurled it to the ground. No more internet. We didn’t know how much we relied on it and now we’re really struggling without it. The hardest part is the feeling of being severed from our community, isolated, cut off.

With that in mind, you may understand the mixture of sadness, disappointment, and utter helplessness I feel as I’m getting weather reports from back home. It seems that a climate of fear, mistrust, and hostility broods over the Mormon community. Storms eventually blow over, but this is something different. This is a foul, pestilential vapor hanging over our community, although, in one of the many ironies inherent in being human, we are asphyxiating ourselves even as we fume at others.

I have no breath of fresh air to offer. No breezy expressions to sweep away the reeking miasma. In an emergency, they say, an oxygen mask will drop from above. But clearing the air will take more than some deus ex machina.

It was not the gods who did this–they did not command us to kick each other out of the church; they did not whisper that TRUTH was such a fragile thing it needed protection from IDEAS; they did not inspire us to pick up stones and hurl them at one another; they surely did not teach us that moral influence and power should be maintained by virtue of priesthood office, nor by exercising control, dominion, or compulsion, nor by contracting out the dirty work to modern-day hirelings, the PR Department.

Sadly, it seems to me that the hand of inclusion and acceptance we’d been extended by a few apostolic leaders seems to have been withdrawn. Now it’s all jabs and sucker-punches.

BUT I ALSO HEAR REPORTS OF KINDNESS, of inclusion, of individual ministries where institutional ones have failed. I rally when I hear these reports. They tell me that pockets of fresh air are possible where two or more are truly gathered in His name–a kind of rescue breathing where words of acceptance and inclusion resuscitate the dead and dying.

To those who have been excommunicated from the body of believers, whether formally (institutional punishment) or informally (social punishment), my heart aches for you. I’ve been working among the leprosy-affected here in India enough to witness how dehumanizing it is to be shunned, marginalized, even banished from a community. I’ve also come to understand the fear and ignorance lurking under the surface of such behavior. But you are not unclean for questioning injustice. You are not filthy for calling foul. You are not untouchable for challenging the status quo.

Every time someone, in fear, draws a circle that excludes you from the Mormon community, please know there are others of us drawing circles wide enough to take you in. And as your brothers and sisters, we will continue our commitment to inclusion, through renegade acts of radical acceptance, until we find ourselves—all of us–circumscribed into one great whole.

 

Here outside the tiny village of Thottanaval, there are plans to rebuild the tower that pulls internet fire from the sky. It could take a month or a year. But in the meanwhile, I still find my most meaningful relationships intact, needing no intermediary to connect us. May it be so for all of us.