Monday, December 22, 2008

My Dream: A Collective Mighty Change of Heart

I would feel like I had died and gone to heaven if every member in my ward and stake openly and sincerely invited everyone they knew to sit with us as we worship in Sacrament Meeting simply because they love them and want to share our worship with them - no other strings attached.

I would love to see our chapels packed to overflowing during Sacrament Meeting, even if many of the attendees left the building and didn't stay for the other two hours - because they weren't interested in the instruction that occurs in those meetings.

I would love to sit with a gay friend and his partner and their daughter, to smell cigarette smoke residue in the pew behind me, to wave to the girl in the tank top in the back, to see what tattoo or earring the man in front of me had added the previous week, to be surrounded by every shade of skin imaginable, etc - even if I had to wish them a blessed week after Sacrament Meeting ended, and even if I had no realistic hope in them ever being baptized and joining the Church.

In all seriousness, I believe that if we lived the true heart of the Gospel better, these friends would be among us - especially if our efforts to share the spirit of our worship were not tied to "conversion" but were focused more on simple friendship and fellowship - on the joy and spirit and peace of our worship. I think many would accept the occasional talk about the Law of Chastity or the Word of Wisdom or Modesty in Dress, if it wasn't directed in a judgmental way at them and their lifestyle - if they knew our standards didn't change our love for them. (I realize many would not accept it, but I believe many would.)

I have no problem telling the missionaries to stay away from a friend who comes to church with me, if that is what that friend wants. What matters to me is that my friend is there with me.

Of course, I want that friend to accept the Gospel, be baptized and receive the blessings of the Gospel that enrich my life - but that's not a condition of my invitation to worship with me. I wish with all my heart that we could open our arms and embrace anyone who walked through our chapel doors, sincerely and lovingly and unconditionally - and that we brought more diverse people with us through those doors. I don't think we have to compromise our doctrinal standards to do so, but we certainly have to experience a collective mighty change of heart.

7 comments:

Christy said...

I like your perspective and will try to adopt it. Perhaps that's why I have such a hard time with missionary work (just the term makes me cringe) - I feel that I have a hidden agenda, and I don't like being approached in that manner, so why would I want to do it to someone else?

Kevin said...

Ray,

I had a similar discussion with our ward mission leader a couple of weeks back. Before I was released from the HC last month, I had the unpleasant experience of sitting on the stand through a sacrament meeting where the youth speaker and two adult speakers all spoke about missionary work, while there were at least two investigators in the congregation. I don't think they have come back.

I can't help but agree that there is a need for more genuine sincere invitations to "come and see" to our friends, knowing that there really are no strings attached, and that whatever happens, they will still be our friends.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Christy and Kevin. This is one of my core issues, and I am beginning to emphasize it more openly and directly in my talks. In one way or another, I weave the general concept into most things I address.

Natalie said...

That would indeed be beautiful. Thanks for directing me to this post. It's writing like this, and the community it builds, that will someday bring about that collective change. All we can do is change ourselves to make it happen more quickly.

Gerry Madigan said...

This came across my desk three times this week, so I feel promted to respond, even though I rearely ever respond to blogs of any kind. It has highlighted an aspect of Church membership that has long weighed heavy upon my soul - the jugdmental approach so many have towards other people's lifestyles, and their conclusions that this lifestyle is not inkeeping with Gospel principles, and consequently creates untold hardship and misery in the future.
My wife and I have six wonderful children and seven amazing grandchildren -so far none of them have served missions, and two are already married and sealed in the temple.As a result, many families look on our parenting as seriously flawed - even though we have always been regular Church attenders, served in a variety of callings, conducted FHE regularly and consistently, scripture reading and family prayer. But somehow, even though unsaid, we sense the judgmental attitude that we are somehow lesser LDS parents for having children who did not serve missions.
But let me share two incidents that epitomize the very essence of the hypocrisy the Saviour referred to in the Phillistines. While serving as a Branch President, a potential young lady convert eventually attended our sacrament meeting, at the invitation of the missionary Elders and myself. She came dressed in her Sunday best, which at that time (being a stylish young woman) was a very short black mini-skirt and tigh-fitting beautiful top. She looked radiant. The missionaries immediately approached me and suggeested that either I, or they, should immedately reprimand the young lady for coming to church dressed so inappropriately, and suggest that she return home and change into something more suitable. This was the only time in my life that I got really angry with the missionaries - I told them that she was welcome, and that they should make her feel welcome, and under no circumstance should they suggest such a thing to her. Furthermore, I told them to avoid any reference to her clothing at this point - her understanding of modesty and church standards would be addressed at a different time and under die=ifferent circumstances. However, the damage was done,k because someone else had mentioned to her that her clothes were inappropriate. I subsequently spent many hours trying to encourage that young lady to return to church...she never did.
The second incident was when I served as a Stake Clerk, and a member of the young women's group from one of the Wards was attending a youth dance. This young lady was a fairly recent convert. She looked magnificent ina blue suit, even though the skirt was a little bit on the short side. But I knew this young women - one of the pure in heart, who was untainted by the world, and a joy to be around - fresh, vibrant, and with an eagerness to learn and a thirst for the gospel. As I was coming out of my office I noticed her leaving early - I asked her why she was leaving before the dance had ended. She came to me tearfully and said that a member of the Stake Presidency had told her that she was not welcome to any youth dances dressed as she was. My comment to her was that this particular man was obviuosly blinded by her beauty and could not see her ture nature or the desires of her heart. I confirmed to her that she looked beautiful, and in my mind she would ALWAYS be welcome to every function at the church. However, the damage had been done, and she eventually drifteed away from the church.
When will we ever leanr that it doesn't matter what we say, or what we do, but id only matters how we make people feel. If people do not 'feel' welcome in church, why should they stay?
I loved Ghandi's approach to religion, when he (as a devout Hindu) could not accept that the 'untouchables' were deeped unworthy even to walk beside. He said, "these are not untouchables, these are the children of God". We are all children of our Heavenly Father, and thos of us fortunate enough to have found His true church should extend the hand fo brotherly friendship to all of our other brothers and sisters and welcome them into the fold.
Gerry - originally from Ireland, now living in Calgary Canada

Latter-Day Guy said...

This is a wonderful vision, Ray. However, I have to confess that, apart from the sacrament itself, my ward's meetings leave me mostly frustrated or bored as hell. What do we have to offer apart from membership and the ordinances that entails? It isn't as though our meetings are riveting even to those with a vested interest in them.

Papa D said...

Gerry, thanks for those examples. They break my heart every time I become aware of them, but they need to be known in order to be eliminated.

Natalie, you're welcome. We need to do what we can to change wherever we are.

LDG, I am very fortunate to be in a ward where we are fed on a regular basis in Sacrament Meeting. Our most recent and current Bishops have focused intently on the content of the talks and lessons being Christ-centered and communicating high expectations of the speakers. The result has been incredible. I absolutely LOVE our ward.

Also, our Stake President focuses on developing Christ-like characteristics, and one of his soapbox issues is acceptance and love for all. I really love that man.