Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Greatest Apostle

In the last day or so I’ve had a number of conversations with different people about the significance of Elder Dallin Oaks’ condemnation of same sex relationships during his talk at the Saturday morning session of General Conference.

By way of full disclosure, my husband and I this last August celebrated our 25th anniversary as a couple (and the beginning of our tenth year as a legally married couple!), and Dallin Oaks’ talk did not upset me in the least. I knew going into conference that the church has not changed its position on this issue, and I don’t expect its position to change without a lot of prayer and fasting. And the choices that I’ve made in my life I have made carefully and prayerfully, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I have tried and tested those choices over the course of many years, and they have born much good fruit. I trust that with time, the truth will out. And I know where I stand with God, and where I stand is a good place, and so I have much patience for the working out of these issues within my beloved Latter-day Saint community. And working out they are. There are ample signs of that.

Even though I did not feel personally wounded by Oaks' talk, I fully expected that many would be. And I mourn with the many for whom this talk adds a fresh wound to so many other wounds that remain unhealed. I remember what it was like when I was just coming out, just trying to figure these things out, filled with doubt, trying to chip away at the years of internalized shame that remained encrusted on my soul. I listened to my heart, and trusted that coming out was the right thing to do, and eventually discerned that my relationship with my husband was the right thing for my life. As I entered into that path, I was in a sense taking my very first wobbly steps as an adult, taking responsibility for my own discernment process and my own choices. And it’s hard, when you are just learning to walk on your own, and there are people on the sidelines telling you that you’re wrong, that you can’t possibly know the things that you know, that you are a sinner. It’s easy to get thrown off balance. And my only advice in that situation is if your heart is telling you something is right, the only correct course of action is for you to follow it, so keep your gaze up, stand up straight, keep walking, and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Now my response to conference overall was that there were many good, uplifting, Christ-centered, grace-centered gospel messages in conference. I felt the spirit teach me through them. And some people have gotten mad at me, and said, "Those talks don’t matter. Those general authorities weren’t as important as the one who condemned us." And my response to that is that something is only ever as important as we make it. Why should we invest more importance in a message that comes from a high-ranking apostle than in a message that comes from an emeritus 70? That’s not the Gospel. Christ didn’t say, "This high-ranking person is more important than this other person who has no rank." In fact he said the opposite. He said things like, "If you want to be the greatest, you need to be a servant, not a ruler," and "The last will be first and the first will be last," and "Be like a child." Stuff like that.

If the retired 70's message is grounded in a firm understanding of the Gospel, and if it is delivered in a spirit of Christ-like grace, and that is the talk that most deeply penetrates my soul, in my mind that makes it the most important message in conference. The most important proclamations in any conference are not proclamations on the family or statements of policy, they are the declarations of Christ’s love and the call for each of us to align ourselves with it. I heard that call loud and clear at conference, both over the pulpit and in the quiet whisperings of the Spirit in my heart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

I expected hurt and anger about Oaks' statement. I confess I was a little bit taken aback by the depth of the fury at his perceived "doubling down." And my only response to that is that righteous indignation is particularly ineffective as a solvent. It does not soften. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It hardens, it entrenches. Love, connection, and listening, on the other hand, are excellent solvents. They are, in fact, the only solvents that enable us to penetrate hardened shells and gain access to the heart. If you want to make lasting change in the world, be soft. Look patiently for openings, for fertile earth, and then plant seeds. Love.

That is the Gospel.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Non-Genetic Heritage

I spent most of Sunday working on Goran's and my family trees. One thing that struck me is how incredibly important a role foster parents have played in both our families. There are numerous foster parents in both our family trees, but two salient examples illustrate.

During the Spanish influenza epidemic, first my great grandmother and her baby boy passed away, then my great grandfather towards the tail end of the epidemic.
"Uncle Henry" as a young man

During the Great Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919 (considered the most devastating epidemic in recorded history: 30-40 million people died), my grandmother lost both her parents and her baby brother Howard. The oldest of her seven surviving siblings were still in their teens and the youngest was 5 years old. The children were all taken in and raised by their life-long bachelor uncle Henry. I have always been in awe of the sacrifice of this man who went from single bachelor farmer to parent of seven over night.

An iconic photo from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to support the sanitation workers, and it was there he was assassinated.
Otis Elliott and Göran's grandma Eloise

On Goran's side, his father and father's sister Dorothy were raised by Otis Elliott. Aunt Dottie described Otis as a kind and good father who raised them as his own kids, and provided a stable, loving influence in their lives. Like my grandma's uncle Henry, Otis was a humble, hard working man. Otis was a sanitation worker in Memphis, Tennessee during the sanitation workers strike of 1968, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. He was always (justifiably) proud of his role in that historic movement for equality and justice that has shaped all of our worlds.

Certainly our genetic heritage is a huge part of making us who we are. But family is much more than just genes ("genealogy"). Individually and as families, we are who we are as well because of the things we inherited spiritually and emotionally and socially from foster parents, mentors or teachers.