The Power of Remembering

In a church with a lay ministry, every Sunday is an adventure. Like that famed box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. Usually the sermons are repetitions of General Conference addresses or recaps of scripture stories. Occasionally you get a politically or socially charged topic or a speaker who goes completely off the “safe” script and delves into life details that most would keep private. To those who, like me, may have tender feelings close to the surface, church attendance can be more of a spiritual minefield that a chocolate tasting.

Yesterday, I sat in the pew with my children as we usually do. We sang the hymns, listened to the prayers, took the bread and water. I tried to help them sit quietly while trying to listen to the speakers myself. Our ward had a full program with three youth speakers and two adults. Things went smoothly and predictably through talks of scripture heroes and a sermon on agency. When the last speaker got up, he had only 10 minutes left and hurriedly worked to condense his planned talk, a rendition of a General Conference talk, “Choose the Light.”      

One of the challenges we face, said the speaker, was that of living in the information age where so much is available on the internet. Deciding what is true and uplifting can be difficult. There are those who seek to destroy faith by publishing and sharing criticisms of church policy and past and present leaders. Most of their information is false, especially the claims about how the church uses tithing funds and the claims about things Joseph Smith did. The people publishing this information hide behind the anonymity of the internet and their words are given more import than they should. But, if our faith is strong, if we pray and read our scriptures enough, we will not be overcome by the darkness.  

My first reaction was to feel resentful and insulted. The implications of this brother’s words was that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I have legitimate concerns with policy, doctrine,and history or that I am willfully seeking to destroy faith. He suggested that maybe I just wasn’t praying enough or didn’t have enough faith and that I was being deceived.

He doesn’t know, I thought angrily. He doesn’t know how much I have prayed, coming close to praying without ceasing at times. I have continued to pray when the answers are slow to come. He doesn’t know the time I have spent studying, seeking to find comforting answers, only to come up empty handed. He doesn’t know how hard it is for me to come to church some Sundays when the only thing that gets me in the pew is a desperate desire to believe and a spiritual conviction of where my Heavenly Parents want be to be.

Then I looked up, through watery eyes and saw my bishop. He looked right at me and smiled with immense gentleness. Because he knows me and our family, I think he could guess how the speaker’s words were affecting me. I’m not sure what he would have said to me if we hadn’t been across the room, but he didn’t need to say anything. In his eyes and his smile, for a moment, I felt peace knowing that at least one person knew who I was and loved me just as I am.

I quickly looked away to hide a tear. I thanked God for the moment and asked him to help me to love others this way. I remembered the words of the sacrament hymn we had sung just a few minutes earlier. I thought of the sacrament prayer, and my covenant to always remember the sacrifice of my Savior. I remembered His words, in the midst of pain, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  

I am so far from perfect and make countless mistakes. I am deeply humbled by and indebted to the sacrifice that cleanses me from my sins and makes me new again. I have never known the weight of injustice that our Savior experienced. I have so little to forgive. I needed strength though, help to let go of the pride that told me I was justified in offence. I needed power to turn my heart soft, allowing it to be bruised and healed and bruised again. 

I looked up at the speaker and thought, you know what, he doesn’t know. His lived experience is all he knows. He doesn’t know me or the others like me. The resentment and frustration from feeling misunderstood and misrepresented in such a public forum melted away. As I remembered Jesus Christ and my covenant to try to emulate Him, I was filled with a love and gentle peace beyond my own. 

A mild voice whispered to me, "This is grace. This is Christ's power to change who you are and make you like Him. It happens like this, one small step, one small change a time."


Question Everything

Terry Tempest Williams, quoted in Mormon Women Essential Writings.


My Year In Books, Part Three: A Little Bit of This And A Little Bit of That

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed
Non-Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs, Travel, Nature

Retreating to nature in order to find oneself is a common theme in literature. Cheryl Strayed’s book follows many of the familiar themes: a wound, a period of losing oneself, a journey of physical difficulty and solitude, and an eventual spiritual and emotional healing. Even though the tale is familiar, there is much to love in this book and I found it comforted and nourished me.   

Cheryl hiked a large portion of the Pacific Coast Trail after her life and marriage fell to pieces after the death of her mother. She was unprepared both physically and emotionally for the stresses and dangers of the trail. Cheryl had to decide very quickly whether to give into her fear and retreat or to face the fear and walk through it. And she walked. And walked. And walked.

I too, have faced times in my life when I realized that I was carrying things I would have thought impossible and found liberation in the realization.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.”

“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable. These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.”

While I loved the book, there were times when the story wandered and I ended up skipping some pages to move things along.  
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Journey
By Rolf Potts
Non-Fiction, Travel

This book is difficult to explain until you read it. Half travel advice, half philosophy guide, Vagabonding is not easy to pin down. In this quick read, while quoting the likes of Thoreau, Whitman, and Muir, Potts endeavors to explain his approach to long term travel, teaching readers to view the experience “not as an escape, but as an adventure and a passion - a way of overcoming your fears and living life to the fullest.” Vagabonding is a way of engaging in low cost, long term travel with a minimum of planning. The goal is to take life as it comes, to travel slowly or quickly as the occasion permits and not be so caught up in checking experiences off a  list or meeting schedules and expectations.  

Dan and I both loved this book and found ourselves longing to sell our belongings, pack up our little family and travel the world. It didn’t help that while we read this book, some of our best friends were doing just that. I hope that one day we can find the space in our lives to embrace the vagabonding lifestyle.

The Sense of Wonder
By Rachel Carson
Non-Fiction, Nature, Relationships

Rachel Carson, the celebrated marine biologist and conservationist and author of Silent Spring, shares a new and stunning side of herself in these tender and personal essays. In The Sense of Wonder, Rachel relates stories of her adventures with her nephew Roger as he explores the natural world of her home on the coast of Maine.

Rachel uses these stories to instruct adults about the importance of encouraging wonder in the lives of the children under our care.  

“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.”

This is a beautiful book, a quick and soul-nourishing read.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By Marie Kondo
Non-Fiction, Self-Help, Cleaning

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”   

Many people wonder if reading another book about organizing is worth the time. After all, how much can you say about “tidying” and can you really claim that it is life-changing? Truly, the method Marie Kondo describes is incredibly simple: 1) Imagine, in detail, the life you desire. 2) Choose a category such as clothes or books and gather every article you own in that category. 3) Pick each item up and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” while paying attention to how you feel. If the item does, keep it. If not, get rid of it. The result, if you truly follow the method, is life changing. When you only keep or buy those things that truly bring joy into your life, your life cannot help but change. You shed excess, clutter, and the need to have more things and the results transfer over mentally and spiritually as well.

Not everyone will find it necessary to read the whole book, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the narration while I was cleaning. Although, the notion may seem silly to some people, I appreciated her respect for possessions and how she wrote about our clothes and books having feelings.

Her advice for saying thank you to things that no longer brought joy was especially helpful:

“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure. To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”   

By learning to acknowledge the purpose that the item had served, I was able to let go of several things that I had kept out of obligation and not because I loved or used them. I am still working through our things and haven’t come to the point where we only have joy-sparking items. But, we are a lot closer than we were and I feel better already!

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
By Sheryl Sandberg
Non-Fiction, Women & Business

Guilt. That feeling when we know we have compromised our standards and bear significant responsibility. Guilt can be helpful, motivating us to do make amends for mistakes and do better in the future. However, excessively dwelling on perceived weaknesses and moral failings can lead to depression and resentment. I come from a place where an interesting mix of cultural forces leads many to carry excessive guilt. I fall victim to this mindset more than I’d like to admit. I don’t live up to my parent’s expectations, my religion’s ideals, or my own standards. I have made mistakes that will continue to affect my life for years to come.

I have also made choices that I felt were right for me, but don’t fit a cultural mold that is reiterated regularly. Most glaring, I choose to work full time and enjoy the benefits of full time employment. I felt inspired to take the employment opportunities that were places before me and yet I struggle with guilt and worry about falling short as a mother and as a member of the LDS Church.

Reading Lean In helped me examine my guilt, evaluating what was healthy and signaled needed changes and what I could let go of. The experience was transformative and I felt a great spiritual peace, an inner voice affirming my worth and the path that I have chosen.

Many of my fears were eased by listening to Sheryl Sandberg relate study after study showing that my choice to work wouldn’t lead directly to the destruction of my family. For example, she shared evidence that, “When women work outside the home and share breadwinning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.”

Her advice to “lean in” came at the perfect time for me, when I was praying about a possible career change. I was unsure of what to do with this opportunity to transfer to a more technical role in my company’s IT department and overwhelmed at the prospect. I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenges of the new position and was inclined to stay in a position where I had become comfortable. When I read these words, I knew that I needed to take a leap in the darkness and trust that I could grow and adapt to new challenges:
“There is no perfect fit when you're looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is packed full of information, suggestions, and motivation. Sheryl Sandberg is a passionate, intelligent woman. While she doesn’t demand that all women enter the workforce or work toward high level leadership positions, she does want to empower women who are capable and motivated to work toward those goals. She doesn’t want our insecurities or societal barriers to get in the way of women who have the drive to succeed in the business world. She also has a deep conviction that more women in leadership will make businesses and ultimately the world a better place.    


"Doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me?"

Speaking for the LDS Church at an interfaith dialogue in 2008, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, stated “Immigration questions are questions dealing with God’s children. I believe a more thoughtful and factual, not to mention humane approach is warranted, and urge those responsible for enactment of immigration policy to measure twice before they cut. Meet an undocumented person. Come to know their family. If there is a church that owes debt to the immigrant and the principle of immigration it is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1]

photo credit: Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News

Elder Jensen’s remarks were made in the context of several measures dealing with immigration were being considered in the Utah House and Senate and were specifically directed to state legislators and other government officials. His comments are in line with a 2011 official church statement on immigration. This statement, while discouraging illegal immigration, also stressed that “The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God” and warned against mass expulsion, targeting specific groups, and enforcement only legislation[2].      

I felt Elder Jensen's’ statement summed up my feelings on the matter and I recently posted his quote on my Facebook wall. As a moderate liberal in a family of political and religious conservatives, I expected some pushback. I am a peacemaker at heart and generally go to great lengths to avoid conflict, especially on political matters. The issue of how to deal with both legal and illegal immigration transcends politics, though, and cuts to the very heart of my religious faith and what I believe the purpose of this country to be.

One family member responded to my post with the following comment, “There's an assumption here that people who oppose immigration do so because they are not "humane." If you get to know them, you'll change your mind. First of all, I don't like being called not "humane" based on this person's assumption that I don't know any immigrants. Well he's wrong. I probably know more immigrants than he does. This isn't an argument. It's an insult.”

I’d first like to say that neither Elder Jensen nor I called out any specific person or group as inhumane. There is a difference between saying that our laws and practices dealing with immigration could be more humane, which is having compassion or benevolence, and calling a particular person not humane. It is entirely possible for good, well-meaning people, who are generally humane, to enact or enforce laws in ways that do not result in the expression of the virtues of compassion or benevolence.

Frankly, I am surprised that such a non-specific call for more thought, facts, and compassion in immigration legislation could be construed as insulting. Any important national decision should be made only after taking time to consider facts, history, and the potential impact the decision could have in people’s lives. Many Americans are jumping to conclusions and reactions based on fear, as we have seen recently in the public support for political figures like Donald Trump with his inflammatory remarks that Mexican immigrants were “rapists,” bringing drugs and crime[3] and calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.[4]” Another well publicized example is Tennessee state Rep. Glen Casada, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus in the state Legislature, who called for the National Guard to round up Syrian refugees[5].

“Othering,” is a term used describe the natural human tendency to view or treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself. This inclination can lead people to dismiss the “other” as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity in both overt and subtle ways. Truth be told, while still worrying, I am less concerned about individual politicians than I am about those I respect and love espousing views that categorically put large groups of people in the “other camp.” For example, I had someone very dear to me confide their fear that “White people aren’t having enough babies. All the Muslims and the Mexicans are going to keep having babies and soon we’ll be in the minority.” A different family member recently commented on Facebook that if Utah admitted any Syrian refugees he would be happy to use his extensive gun collection to forcibly remove them.

This reaction to immigrants is older than the country itself. Benjamin Franklin, writing in 1751, complained of the German immigrants in Pennsylvania, arguing that their politics, language, and culture, and even darker complexion (as compared to English settlers), was distasteful and incompatible. Others of the time objected to the Germans, labeling them as a lazy and illiterate group whose Catholicism and “excessive fertility” threatened their Anglo-Saxon way of life[6]. Other examples of anti-immigration sentiment litter our history: The Chinese Exclusion Act, the Know Nothing political party and more. 

The United States is a country of immigrants and each wave of immigration has raised the same types of opposition in the native born population. This opposition can be generally divided into three categories: concern for personal and national safety, economic concerns, and fear of cultural change. Take, for example, a 2014 Reuters poll which “showed that 70 percent of Americans — including 86 percent of Republicans — say illegal immigrants threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs, as well as jeopardize the economy.[7]” While othering and the fears that fuel the propensity may be a natural and evolutionarily important reaction to the unknown, it can be intensified in unhealthy and unhelpful ways by media, political, and religious figures.

On the other hand, the negative effects of othering can be balanced by facts and empathy. Facts about the history of immigration, current levels, the contributions of immigrants to our society, and security threats can facilitate better immigration legislation that accurately meets the needs of citizens while respecting the human dignity of those seeking to enter this country. For example, understanding that, “Numerous studies by independent researchers and government commissions over the past 100 years repeatedly and consistently have found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born,[8]” or understanding the process for vetting refugees may help alleviate fear about immigration.    
Neither I nor Elder Jensen assumed that particular people on my Facebook friend list held political views because they did or did not know immigrants. What I was asserting and will stand by is that it is important for lawmakers to recognize their own biases and work to correct them. One of the most effective tools to do this is to develop meaningful relationships and contacts with a diverse group of people.   

At the conclusion of her well-researched book on the state of free speech in America and the consequences of silencing opposing viewpoints, Kirsten Powers told the story of a law school admissions board that chose to reject the application of an otherwise acceptable candidate, a young man from a religious college. They wrote that they don’t want a “Bible-thumping student.” One of the members of that committee reminded his colleagues that his background was similar to the young man’s. Ultimately, the admission committee decided to admit the student.

Powers uses this story to illustrate how personal connection can work to overcome deeply ingrained biases. She notes: “We should all make efforts to invite people who hold different views into our worlds. Contrary to popular thought, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds understanding and tolerance.[9]

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a necessary component of a harmonious society because it motivates individuals to act in ways that are good not only for themselves, but for the group as a whole. Most people, no matter their religious affiliation, can remember times when they almost seemed to feel another's’ physical or emotional pain.

Humans seem wired, whether by evolution or by a divine hand, to empathize most with those they are close to. Mirror neurons react to the emotions we view in others and then reproduce them, in essence allowing us to feel what others feel. It is natural to experience empathy for those closest to us, our family and friends, those who are like us. As Christians, we have an added obligation to seek after empathy, also called in the scriptures compassion, mercy, or charity. We are called to emulate the example of Jesus, who seemed particularly attuned to the emotions of those around him. Recall these touching verses from 3 Nephi, when Jesus told the people he would be leaving them:

“And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.
 And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.
 Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.”

As baptized members of the Christ’s church, we are under covenant to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort[10], in essence to have empathy, not just with those we love, but also our enemies, those who hate us[11], and those we consider the least worthy[12] of our empathy. This is a covenant we renew weekly when we take the sacrament and great promises of spiritual strength are attached to keeping this covenant.

As a friend of mine recently said, "Compassion, not contempt is the source of life that so many of us need. it is the font of living water from which we all can drink and sustain life. That is what I am advocating for. I'm not arguing for or against a particular policy. I'm not advocating lawlessness. I do believe that in order to create a just and virtuous society our most important Christian virtue, without which we are like sounding brass, must be evident in our lives and flow into our laws.


[1] Buckley, Deborah. “Have compassion for immigrants, lawmakers urged.” Deseret News. Feb 14 2008. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/695253048/Have-compassion-for-immigrants-lawmakers-urged.html?pg=all.
[2] “Immigration: Church Issues New Statement.” Mormon Newsroom. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jun 10 2011. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/immigration-church-issues-new-statement 
[3] Ye Hee Lee, Michelle. “Donald Trump's false comments connecting Mexican immigrants and crime. The Washington Post: Fact Checker. July 8 2015.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/
[4] Trump, Donald J. “Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration.” Trump: Make America Great Again. Dec 07 2015. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration.   
[5] Sisk, Chas. “Tennessee Lawmaker Calls for national Guard to Round UP Syrian Refugees.” NPR Politics. Nashville Public Radio. Nov 19 2015. http://www.npr.org/2015/11/19/456502693/tennessee-lawmaker-calls-for-national-guard-to-round-up-syrian-refugees.
[6] Baron, Dennis. “Official American: English Only.” PBS.org. 2005. http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/officialamerican/englishonly/  
[7] Bell, Alistair. “Americans worry that illegal migrants threaten way of life, economy.” Reuters. Aug 7 2014. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-worries-idUSKBN0G70BE20140807.
[8] Immigration Policy Center. “Immigrants and Crime: Are They Connected?” American Immigration Council. Oct 25 2008. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/immigrants-and-crime-are-they-connected-century-research-finds-crime-rates-immigrants-are
[9] Powers, Kirsten, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Regnery Publishing. 2015