So, I just gave my first ‘talk’ in Sacrament Meeting in my new ward of 4 years… and part of me is afraid that it just might be my last. It went great; honestly, I couldn’t have done it better – I was tear-filled, genuine, and from everything I see, scripturally accurate as well. That being said, I’m not a great speaker in the slightest.
But it is amazing to me how radical and rebellious I can feel just by putting scripture side by side with our history, statements from our history, our traditions, and even some current attitudes and statements. Maybe I am just self-conscious.
The difficulty for me is that God has handled me very differently from what I was taught to expect, differently from those around me, and differently from what I’ll call our Authoritative Record; likewise God handled me much like scripture – our canon – teaches. So, do I rely on the tradition that God guided me past or follow my divine nature that leaves me hungering to love, teach, and heal according to what God has given me directly.
The answer is really clear to me, but through the response of people I’ve confided in, I came to know some of the not so pleasant scriptures as firsthand as I just had the beauty in Christ’s parables.
So, I feel to say to myself similarly to what the prophet Joseph Smith said to himself:
Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually [experienced this]; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why [do my people] think to make me deny what I have actually [experienced]? … I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.
Not having a testimony of the restoration would make the process easy; from that vantage point, I nor the God I worship would have any interest in any of the affairs of the church. That isn’t the case; it is the truth contained within the restoration that needs supporting – and very little else.
So, I am in the right place – in the right church – that can’t accept its own imperfection, fallibility, or incompleteness.
And God says: “Teach, Greg.”
So, I feel really weaselly. “God, uh, I’m nobody right?”
“Yes and no.”
“Well, uh, you do know that there’s this massive network of teachings and massive cultural disdain that say a ‘nobody’ has no business teaching the church as a whole, right?”
“Yeah, that does make things difficult.”
“And, it was firmly reiterated by an Apostle in this most recent conference. So, where does that come from?
“We already talked about this.”
“I know but why not just tell them.“
“Why do you think?”
“I don’t know, God! This is your answer every time I ask you.”
“Are you catching on yet?”
“But that isn’t how it has been taught for years… I’ve read the writings of the prophets and-“
“Then why do you think I’m asking you to open your mouth?”
“[Long hesitation]…. Don’t get me wrong, God. I know that what you have given me and taught me is solid. And yeah, it is all in our canon. I mean – I know with what you’re asking me to teach – it isn’t anything really ‘out there.'”
“Yeah and you know it.“
“But I’ve already tried sharing it, and the truth that is hard to swallow… we… I’ve been taught how to label an apostate since… I can even remember being taught! And this – as they said, “raises red flags everywhere.”
“So, you’re saying you understand that really well too.”
“Yeah… thanks for the qualification.”
“You know, you are qualified. With very few exceptions – which vary from very sad to very silly – you’ve lived according to the strictest of standards your entire life. Regardless, you really are the people I have invited you to teach.”
“No, I know, I am not. We’ve gone over who I am – and next to nobody among ‘my’ people can even begin to understand me.”
“But that is why you came to me. It is how you know what you know; while I know it leaves you hurting, it is actually another thing that makes you ideal.”
“Let me remind you of something that my Son taught ‘They that are whole have no need of the physician.'”
“But can’t you just tell someone whole to teach the message?”
“You’re missing the point; let me repeat myself: ‘the whole have no need of the physician.’
“I get it.”
“Yeah, to some extent you do. But there is something else: I am not sending you to teach everyone, I am sending you to those that are broken. Again, you are the people I have invited you to teach. Remember, Christ was sent to call sinners, not the righteous to repentance.”
“I know that is as complex as it is simple.”
“Nevertheless you know where your focus should be; you are interested in doing the work of your Savior, right?”
[more tears] “Yeah, but…”
[silent, tearful nodding]
“So was he.”
“But I’m not asking you to suffer the eternal weight of the sins of mankind, nor take upon you all the sufferings of your fellow man.”
“Do you remember when you came to me in prayer over a year ago? You pleaded with me and begged me that I release you from having to spend all of your efforts and energy in the bondage of ‘not being something’ with the very real desire that in so doing you would use that freedom and grace to ‘really be something‘ for me.”
“This is all that I ask.”
“Yeah… It isn’t much. But this has been my world and my life – and… they won’t accept me.”
“Remember your focus. I acknowledged and share in your frustration long before you were born (Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able). But yes, I know; to some extent you might just be ‘despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.’ Revisit the Sermon on the Mount. But it is true that your burden has been light as I promised and that will not change. I promise that I am with you – just as your first real prayers pleaded for as a young child. A few years later, you saw beauty in those who knew me and prayed as they spoke that you could one day know me as they do… but you wanted to do so quietly, without fanfare – that is a good thing. ‘But [my] word [is] in [your] heart as a burning fire shut up in [your] bones, and [you are] weary with forbearing, and [you were never meant to] stay. I do not give men light, to put it ‘under a bushel.'”
“Don’t be afraid… I’ve done this plenty of times.”
[Head shaking, and laughing] “Haha… thanks.”
“But, when I speak, I will speak contrary to our tradition.”
“Is tradition your God, or am I? You can let it go.”
“They… a lot of them… won’t… don’t see it that way.”
“This is why I am telling you to teach.”
“Yeah, I’m noticing how this is working out.”
“Does your church save you, or do I?”
“You know that’s a hard question for some… I don’t think most of our people couldn’t answer so definitively. It is kind of –“
“You know I’m asking you.”
“You’re concerned about your family.”
“If things go as sour as I have seen them go for folks in the past, I could be excommunicated from the church. What I’ve seen is that when a person says something and how they choose to say it, plays a bigger role than whether or not what they say is eternally, actually true.”
“If it comes to that I’m not sure my family will understand – they don’t believe as I do.”
“But for now, I know in whom I am trusting and my wife has encouraged me to overcome my fear and to further investigate the discrepancies you have put in my heart and ultimately do what I feel is right before you.”
“Come what may, you will be mine; there is no greater gift you can give your children and no better way to honor your mother and father.
“Whether or not they see it that way.”
“That too may be a challenge, but I will withhold no good thing from them that love me. Follow the law ‘after the inward man’ – that which I have written’ in your heart – and keep my commandments.”
“–Part of me thinks it is a silly insecurity of mine to believe what I do will gather any attention from anybody.”
“You’ll sure find out.”
So I introduce the beginning of my some writing labeled “Ponder This.” In the hopes that my watching ‘over the church’ might actually help us become a better people and a better church. I have mentioned in so much of my writing that we fall short of what I subjectively see the standard to be.
The question is: are these failures I observe mostly random and individual, mostly part of the church as a whole, or mostly me. Some might lovingly suggest to me that the failures are foundational, but in my heart, experience, and with what our canon teaches, I don’t feel that isn’t even worthy of my attention.
Please, I encourage comment and beg you to discuss things with me, both hell and heaven knows that I really don’t want to do this on my own. However, I know the questions I ask and look into have been taken personally enough in the past that some people were no longer able to differentiate between what I am saying and what they feel I am saying. So the need for me to say this is very real: I won’t entertain personal attacks – and I’ll do my best not to deliver any.
Here’s to a new year, Greg.