Friday, August 7, 2015

My Son's Talk on the Atonement: Omniscience, Tupac and Making a Change

This is a re-delivery of a talk I gave in the singles branch a couple of weeks ago, since the topic fits the Atonement.

When I first was asked to speak in church, I was told I could talk about anything. My first thought was to rant about how the phrase, "Modest is the hottest," is a linguistic oxymoron and an apostate concept, but I figured that probably wasn't a good idea. Instead, I chose to talk about omniscience.

Pres. Monson often references the arts to illustrate his points, so I'd like to follow his example and borrow his approach. Tupac Shakur was a rapper and actor who spoke a lot about social issues. He was killed in 1996. In his song, "Changes," Bro. Shakur said:

I got love for my brothers, but we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other. We gotta start makin' changes; learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers . . . It's time for us as people to start makin' some changes. Let's change the way we eat; let's change the way we live; let's change the way we treat each other.

So, what does that have to do with omniscience?

(Read Luke 6:37 and D&C 64:10 that say we are commanded not to judge people.)

Why not? Why can't we judge people? It's so easy! This person smells funny; this person talks too much; this person betrayed the Savior for 30 pieces of silver; this person brought a gun to school; this person cuts herself; this person cut me off on the highway . . . It's so easy to pass judgment.

Story time:

1) I know of a situation where a young lady came to a church dance in a dress that was an inch or two above her knees. One of the female leaders, trying to obey the letter of the law, sent her home to change. She never returned. The thing is, the leader didn't realize the girl was a non-member friend of one of the young men, and she had worn the most "modest" dress she had in an attempt to respect her friend's standards. The motivation / intent was good, but the action was judgmental and drove this good young woman away.

2) My best friend in high school came to live with us the last half of our senior year, when he turned 18 and his father kicked him out of the house. He came to Seminary with me, had some amazing experiences, the theology just clicked for him and I had the privilege of baptizing him right before graduation. He then went to college on his own and had a terrible experience in his ward. He was dating a girl, and her mother made her break up with him because he wasn't willing to commit to serve a mission when he turned 19. She told her daughter, who told him, that he wasn't righteous and dedicated enough for their family. What she failed to consider was that he walked about four miles to church each week and couldn't commit to serve a mission at 19 because he had joined the Church at 18 1/2, had no financial support from his family, needed to save money to serve a mission, and wanted to learn more before he decided to serve a mission. He didn't feel like he understood the teachings well enough to go at that time. He left the Church as a result of that rejection and judgment, saying to me that he had one wonderful experience and one horrible one - and that he probably would give it another shot at some point and see which way the balance tipped.

It's not all bad.

3) Another young man came to live with us when he was in 9th Grade. He was 6'7" and dark black. His life prior to that time was really bad, and he was judged by "the world" every day. However, he was accepted and loved by the ward family where we lived, and it made incredible changes in him.

4) I taught a young father on my mission who had an inoperable brain tumor. Living in Washington, he was prescribed medical marijuana to help with his condition. We worried about what would happen when we brought an investigator to church who obviously smelled of pot. It was amazing to see the ward members embrace and accept him and not even ask about the obvious smell. On his second Sunday there, he bore his testimony and mentioned how loving and accepting everyone was - and he said, "This is the type of community in which I want to raise my son." He died shortly thereafter, but the ward continued to care for and love his son like they had cared for and loved him.

So, why are we commanded not to judge?

A) We all are flawed.

We all are "crippled, "invalid children" and "broken things". Our perceptions are just as skewed by our experiences as the perceptions of the people being judged.

B) We aren't omniscient.

We can't know if the man who cut us off in traffic is rushing his sick son to the hospital - or if the kid in smelly clothing has a single mother who works hard but can't put enough food on the table, let alone buy him a new wardrobe.

Those situations won't be true 100% of the time, but they are possible. We should be striving to give others the same benefit of the doubt that we hope they and Heavenly Father will give us.

Unfortunately, we can't judge fully righteously, with all the facts before us - at least not on our own. But, there is a loving, omniscient Heavenly Father who can and will help us. I've never prayed for help loving someone and had the Spirit whisper:

"Don't worry about him. I hate him, too."

(Read 1 Samuel 16:7 and 1 Chronicles 28:9)

God sees our hearts and understands us. He knows and completely comprehends every factor of every choice we make - especially the choices we make when we feel we have no choice. He knows all of that and loves us, anyway. I know he loved me even when I was one of those people who had lost hope and given up.

He also knows it's hard. He knows we will struggle, sometimes even with the simplest of commandments. He understands that, too, and all he asks is that we try. Black/white, gay/straight, male/female: He loves us all and just wants us to try. The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes up the difference in what we want to do and be and what we are able to do and be.

I know that Bro. Tupac might not be an apostolic witness, but he's right:

It's time for us as people to start makin' changes . . . Let's change the way we live; let's change the way we treat each other.

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