Continuing the Weekly Reflections from earlier in the year…
This week was interesting for me. I saw what I consider to be a rather significant breakthrough in myself and the concept of sin as I see it during a conversation with a friend. I also found out that one of the men we baptized late last year has effectively stopped attending church, though I have not yet found out exactly why that is the case. Also from Sunday I heard of a conversation with some of our leadership which fits in like with my opinion of the above mentioned member stopping attendance and it makes me glad that I left church early.
The basis for the conversation I had with my friend comes from a blog post I wrote about youth homelessness in the LGBT community in Utah. Roughly 40% of the teenage homeless population in Utah are both LGBT and self-identifying as from active LDS families. I said flat out that I feel like some of our lower level church culture, directly opposite of leadership teachings, is either directly responsible for this figure and if not directly, then responsible in an enabling role. It’s quite frankly a bad situation and I both do and do not wish I was out there to help. My friend, this was not a private conversation, it was posted on Facebook for the world to see, brings up his familiar point about acknowledging and condemning sin. He also brought up his go-to Bible passage, that of the woman taken in adultery. He always likes to whip on the final passage of ‘go and sin no more’ while basically skipping over the first part about casting stones. He believes that by my focusing on the final sentence that I do not want to acknowledge that sin is present. Over the course of the conversation, I eventually came to see, surely not an original view, that while Christ certainly admits that she was a sinner, he was willing to let them stone her to death after all, he forces them to admit that they are not perfectly clean either and they decide not to stone her. It really occurred to me that we can acknowledge sin without casting the stones at the person. We simply are not clean enough to cast those stones at another. Saying that something is a sin is completely different from saying it’s a sin and also casting someone off out of society. I had never really thought of it this way. In many ways this ties into something that I read this week in my Intro to Theology class, though I just thought about it right now as I am writing. In our book we read about something called a “principle of correlation” and part of this is that you are unable to receive answers through study if you are not asking questions. I had a question answered this week about sin. We can admit that something is a sin but still invite that person to our table as a friend. Admitting is not the same as condemning.
Secondly I had noticed for a few weeks that one of our newly baptized members had not been coming and for the few weeks before that he had been coming late. I asked the missionaries who had worked with him about it last night and apparently he has stopped returning their phone calls as well. This is the man I likened to Eeyore. I feel like two things have happened here; this is complete speculation right now, I will try and get some more facts this coming week about it. First, I feel like the missionaries tried to promise him that if he joined everything would just be “spring daisies and cinnamon.” I was slightly uncomfortable with this at the time and I have to wonder if my discomfort was correct. I feel like he was promised a great many things and those things either have not happened at all or he is in too much of a Eeyore mindset to see them. I’d like to be wrong in this, maybe he’s working three jobs every day of the week and is unable to come to church because of that, but I strongly suspect he feels like he’s been sold a load of garbage. Of course this fits in with my ever evolving concept of God as a being who is effectively unable to wholly deliver you from a situation but is able to give comfort during that situation. That seems to me to be a better message, but I don’t know. Second, I feel like we failed him as a congregation. We put this huge pressure on getting convert baptisms but them once they are baptized, we basically let them roam and do their own thing. I feel like once they see the true colors of the congregation and how we treat each other, they leave. It’s quite sad, really. I feel like I do everything that I can to make people feel welcome but there is only so much one person can do.
Finally, my wife told me today that she and her friend were talking and that there was a conversation during the third hour of our church services on Sunday that might have gotten rather heated. Apparently, a member brought up to some of the leadership that we have this huge push for new baptisms and converts but what are we doing to keep the people who are already coming? Certainly this goes right in line with what I just said about the man who stopped attending. I left after our primary worship service and did not attend Sunday School or the combined men/women’s group meeting (where the conversation happened) because my kids were being fussy. Looking back, I think perhaps God’s way of saying “you should probably leave now, stuff’s about to happen and you’ll say something unkind.” Maybe I am interpreting that wrong and they really needed to hear exactly what I might have said, but I feel like no matter how much they might have needed to hear it, they would not have wanted to hear it and would not have accepted any of it. I know it’s a poor attitude to have and I think it’s not as blunt as it seems typed in words, but I’m really glad I leave here in 3-4 months, biting my tongue every day only works for so long.
It was good to see how things came together this week. I feel like I really see the different in “seeing” sin and condemning it. I feel like I have seen the damage that making promises you can’t keep can do and it is a disservice to all parties involved. Finally I feel like I heard God speaking to me this week in a very strange, almost illogical way. Sometimes things happen and we don’t understand them. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with that and the thought that God can’t reach His hand down and deliver me from something, but he can give me the comfort to get through it and that is significant. I hope we can pass that on to more people (if it’s “correct” anyway).
Continuing the Weekly Reflections from earlier in the year…