Well, here we again – me posting another talk – at the request of some people who heard it delivered and others who anticipate it. I must admit to wondering if many will be let down by the content. I hope not! The ward theme is “becoming one though the sacrament“. This talk deals mainly, if not exclusively, with the becoming one part. The “through the sacrament” part will be a later talk.
I gave a talk in January, but I was not fully prepared. Today is the talk I had wanted to give then, having since spent more time getting ready. Thanks to KT we know there were 97 people present then. Of course, my ego is happier giving it today, knowing there are substantially more people here. I’m sure B will count today.
The Ward Conference theme is “becoming one through the sacrament“. It is also the theme for the year. As I mentioned in January please don’t forget the previous years’ theme of “never suppress a generous thought“. Let’s keep that ideal in our lives continually. Indeed I consider it foundational to becoming one.
We each, no doubt, have our own understanding of what it means to be one. The scriptures speak of being of one heart and one mind. Was does that really mean? Does it mean we should all think and feel and be the same? My answer to such a question is absolutely not. If we did what’s the point of being? I’m glad that there are some General Authorities of the Church who agree with me.
Sister Chieko Okazaki, a former counsellor in the Church General Relief Society Presidency wrote:
“Here’s one of my favourite proverbs: ‘If both of us think alike, one of us is not necessary.’
I’ll repeat that sentence –
“‘If both of us think alike, one of us is not necessary.’
Continuing on with sister Okazaki’s words – “Well all of us are necessary. We all think different thoughts, have different perceptions, enjoy different opinions, and rejoice in our diversity. Diversity means uniqueness and difference. It is a cause for celebration within our Church membership. Diversity is not a danger to be stamped out, a broken thing to be fixed, or a sin to be repented of. We’ll be stronger, healthier, more interesting, and more capable when we learn to enjoy differences instead of feeling frightened about them or angry because of them.” – Chieko Okazaki, “Aloha,” p. 97
Similarly, President Uchtdorf, in April 2013 General Conference, said that we are not expected to be clones of each other:
“… while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.
The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”
Part of any diversity is having different opinions and views. And that is okay. Unfortunately, some members of the Church become afraid when things are questioned. They somehow think doubting and seeking answers is akin to apostasy. Hugh B Brown, an earlier apostle and member of the First Presidency wrote:
“I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression.” (Apostle Hugh B. Brown, “A Final Testimony,” from An Abundant Life, 1999)
We are not meant to be the same. If someones says otherwise I will vehemently disagree. Yes, we are seeking to be like Christ. He, and only He, the Saviour of the world is my ideal,who I seek to be like. The life’s of others may be stepping stones of examples towards Christ, but it is only Christ I follow. It is a misnomer to feel that following Christ means we should all think and feel and be the same.
As an example of appreciation and love for difference, I will share an experience a member recently had watching a television program. I have asked for and been given permission to share this person’s experience. It showed a young man who had had many surgeries to shape his body as he felt it should be. I will speak in the first person, using the person’s own words.
“My first reaction is that I found the young man grotesque and unnatural. My next thoughts were disapproving and self-righteous, thinking what a wrong path he had chosen for himself and how he had messed up his life by going so far down that path. Then I felt I saw his heart, and that he was only seeking beauty, perfection and self-affirmation. We all seek those things, one way or another, but the only place they can truly be found is in divinity. I felt I understood at that moment that, deep down, he just wanted to recapture what we have all lost when we left our Father’s presence. All my disapproval disappeared and I felt a deep love for him and with it a realisation that I mess up too, and that God had not rejected either him or me. It happened quickly, within seconds of watching him speak to the plastic surgeons. I learnt how inappropriate it was of me to judge (i.e. disapprove). His life experience had been very different to mine, so why should I expect him to live like me and disapprove of him when he doesn’t? ”
A lot of people will start as this person did and stay fixed in their revulsion and feelings of righteousness. We need to feel for each other, the way Christ and our Heavenly parents feel about us. This I acknowledge is not always easy. Yet, it is the only way. Christ says He is the way, the truth and the life and that no man comes unto the Father, except by Him. What did he do? He loved us. He does love us. Paul speaks, in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
So the injunction is we love each other here today and everyone else, in our families, schools, colleges, universities, workplaces, neighbourhoods, communities, nations, countries and the world. There ought to be no exclusions.
I occasionally get criticism for supposedly singling out supporting the LGBTQ community. No one should be or feel excluded. A while ago I quoted sister Sue Bergin, a relief society president in the States about having no exclusions. Rather than just repeat her words, I have taken and extended them:
“I don’t care if you smoke, drink, abuse substances, are unchaste, hate relief society or priesthood meeting, don’t sustain church leaders, don’t have a testimony, don’t know if you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, have had an abortion, don’t love your wife or husband, don’t like being a mother or father, think women should have the priesthood, are gay or lesbian or transgender, don’t know if you believe in God, don’t relate to Jesus Christ, don’t want to go to the temple, wonder about polygamy. Continuing, I don’t care if you’re single, married, divorced, childless, bearded, beardless, have short hair, long hair, no hair, wear a suit or wear jeans and a t-shirt to church, wear a white shirt or a coloured shirt to church, whether you’re a member of this church or not, whether you come every week, or once a month or once a year or somewhere in between”.
I’ve tried to think of all the ways that we sometimes exclude people, or if we don’t exclude people, that people sometimes themselves feel excluded for. And even if the exclusion is not connected with anything others may be doing, saying or not doing or saying, it does not give anyone permission to say “oh, well, sad they feel that way. Never mind. It’s all their own fault, they just shouldn’t feel that way.”
I do not believe the Saviour would respond that way and do not believe He would like us to either.
No doubt I’ve forgotten or missed something or someone. Oh, one more. I don’t care if you’re politically right wing, left wing or centre. I’m not sure God cares either. In fact I’m not too sure if God is happy if we try to use Him as a means of carrying support for any political belief. It’s so easy to do, which ever way we lean.
The main thing is that, as sister Bergin said, we all belong here, we need each other. We really do need each other. We cannot be one or a Zion society without each other. Everyone belongs here.
That surely must be the same for a whole ward, stake, area and worldwide church and the whole world.
Being one we love and accept each other. We may not always agree with each other. And that’s fine. Love and acceptance is not always about agreeing.
Now, no doubt, some here will be sitting thinking, but…, but…, but…, but the Church teaches we should be chaste, we should keep the word of wisdom, we should do certain things, etc. etc.
Yes, from one viewpoint the Church does teach that. Yet, I will say that from one perspective the Church does not teach that “we” should do anything. If it teaches anything at all, it teaches what I should do or what you as an individual should do. Though, I personally think the word “should” does not help much. I hope I’m using the right words to convey what I mean here. Don’t you worry about how the person next to you is living. Worry about how you are living. As President Uchtdorf said last general conference we need to ask ourselves “Lord, is it I?” What or how Lord, do I need to be different?
Now yes, there are certain standards to adhere to for baptism, for going into the Temple. We teach the principles and as Joseph Smith said, we let the people, we let each other, govern ourselves.
If and when people ask for help then we give it as freely as we are able. Imposing help just doesn’t work. Imposing, or in other words, compelling someone to do something, will bring change in behaviour though not internalised change. It will not be lasting change. Forcing people to do right sounds more like the plan of the adversary. I think we forget that when we feel we must get people to do what we term “good things”, using guilt to get someone to do something is really akin to force. Not to be used. Years ago I’d do that. I hope mostly now I’ve given up that way of trying to get people to do things.
If any changes in anybody’s life is warranted it will come when the person is ready to make that happen. When we feel loved, we are more likely to ask a person who loves us for help. Change only comes through love – the love of Christ and the love of those around us.
Accept people and change may come. Don’t accept people and change won’t come or will likely only be short lived. We generally know whether a change is required in our lives or not. We don’t often need to be told.
If you really love someone, accept them, try to understand them, have empathy for them, love them.
I need your compassion, your understanding, your empathy, your acceptance, your love. As does everyone else here and elsewhere. If you find it hard to love someone, spend time with them, get to know them, listen to them. Really listening to understand someone is a hard thing to do. It means being vulnerable, being open, because listening to someone else might change the way you then think or feel about something. And often we just don’t want to change. During the munch and mingle after the meetings today, take the opportunity to be with someone who you know thinks differently to you on a particular subject. Ask them to share their feelings and then just listen to them. Don’t think about a counter argument or point of view, just listen to them. It could be on politics, it could be on gender, it could be on football, or another sport, it could be on teaching, it could be on employment or benefits, or rape or divorce or sex or birth control. Remember this is to listen and the person speaking is sharing not debating.
The main thing to guide us in how we approach each other is the Holy Ghost, the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit will help us listen to each other better. And listening to others to understand will help us to listen better to the Spirit. It will be upward spiral of understanding. Out of that understanding will flow a greater love for each other.
As Henry Chadwick, wrote in his book, East and West. The making of a rift: “Division brings evils in its train – evils to which we become insensitive by habit. Patient listening can uncover deep and wide agreement concealed by the polemics of the past.”
As we listen with understanding we will find there is less disagreement than we previously thought and the oneness that our heavenly Parents seek for us, we will all be closer to.
If someone says “I love you“, following those three beautiful words with that ugly word “but” any love becomes slightly tainted. “But” might be considered one of the most destructive of words.
Mark Lowry wrote:”Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin and let’s just love each other!”
Let us remember what Elder Wirthlin said in April 2008 Conference:
“Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.
Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”
Everyone is wanted and needed. Perhaps not everyone here feels that. As I said earlier:”We need you and you need us.”
We need each other, no exclusions. Let us become one, as we love each other without conditions of worth.
President Uchtdorf said at a BYU fireside:
“Church members are wonderful in their desire to be obedient and follow the Lord. But sometimes, in spite of our good intentions, we delay doing what we should do or we misunderstand what we were taught. As a result, inspired words of counsel might not have the promised effect. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t seek revelation or answers from the scriptures because we think we know the answers already.
Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.
How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”
Whilst we can quote scriptures and the words of Latter-day prophets and Apostles, the real and full source of truth is within ourselves, coming directly from our Heavenly parents. We must be careful not to set ourselves up to fail by falsely worshipping men or women, even though they may appear to have authority. I hope never to forget the words written by Joseph Smith, in section D&C 121. In our interactions with each other let us remember these principles and attributes:
“… the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
Let us remember that anyone who says we should do anything solely because of their position (priesthood or otherwise) is going counter to Joseph Smith’s counsel and I include myself as bishop in this. Remember:
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by
by gentleness and meekness, and
by love unfeigned; (real, genuine love)
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”
Finally, “Let our bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith… ” to become one.
I believe I have taught truth today. Our Heavenly parents are real. Christ is real. The Holy Ghost is real. Of all this I witness in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.