Friday, April 13, 2012

Smokers in the Chapel



Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in a missionary fireside. The event was held at a member’s home and the ward mission leader, a recent convert himself, conducted.

Now this lovely man with a head full of knowledge and heart full of dedication for his new-found faith is ever busy helping the missionaries and dedicating so much of his time to the church. He’s one of the first to volunteer when needed and takes his callings seriously...and he often carries a hint of cigarette smoke.

He’s on his seventh attempt to stop smoking, which he’s very open about, and has struggled to quit a lifelong habit in a relatively short time. Yet he shows up in church ready to fulfill his calling and even fill in for those who can’t.

I once heard (since I have no source to cite on this I’ll beg your tolerance) one of my hometown ward members say that if we don’t have people in our chapel smelling of smoke, we’re not doing our job. Meaning that if everyone sitting in our chapel looks the picture of the “perfect” Mormon, we’re not reaching out to the people who most need the gospel.

Here’s another non-sourced thought, I also remember someone saying that as the world steps further into vice, the people seeking to break from this world and seek out the gospel are going to bring with them a load of baggage and backgrounds that may seem abhorrent to some of us.

I must have heard this while on my mission because I remember shortly after seeking out those I might otherwise dismiss. While on the bus, a couple with goth makeup, multiple piercings and multi-colored hair got on. In my naiveté their physical appearance represented a world I thought so far-removed from my own. Their stop happened to be ours so we exited together.  

I began talking with the woman and asked if she’d heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No, she hadn’t and far from being curt and dismissive she and her boyfriend were kind, open and eventually accepted a Book of Mormon before going on their way.

Nothing more came of that meeting but a lesson to me that God does indeed see on the heart and not on the outward appearance—to those of us with mortal eyes, saints and sinners are only skin deep.

Now touting the beauties of love over judgment is certainly PC, but that’s not the type of love I’m speaking of. Flower power aside, the power that love has to bring about change is far more lasting and permanent than shame or ostracization.

The brother in my ward could easily have left the church because he simply hasn’t found a permanent solution to his smoking. He could even have tried to cover it up and pretend that nothing was amiss, but instead, he chooses to acknowledge his situation and stay wrapped in the support of those who do not judge him but who see the power and strength this remarkable man had to offer those of us in his ward. I don’t know about you, but this sort of love would awaken in me a greater desire to change than any sort of down-the-nose looking.

This is the love that Christ had for us that he would die for all of us regardless of the mistakes we may make. A hope that we might embrace that love and pull ourselves up to our full potential is ever present in that sacrifice.

This is the love He exhibited while confronted with the men who brought to Him the woman caught in adultery.  He saved her from sure physical destruction and yet saw to her spiritual reconstruction (and that of her accusers) when he told her to go her way and “sin no more.” 

The Samaritan woman at the well had a similar mercy when Christ invited her to partake of the waters of life yet acknowledged that He knew there were elements in her life that were decidedly out of order. And this is even the love with which Christ cleansed the temple.

The unpopular truth about true love is that sometimes it hurts, at least for a while. But for me, those in my life who have loved me enough to tell me what I needed to hear rather than some rosy-colored version of what I wanted to hear were truly saviors at moments in time when I needed a desperate course correction. In other words, we absolutely can love those who haven’t embraced the how-tos of the gospel without fearing that we are diluting our message.

As Elder Uchtdorf talked about in his “Forget Me Not” talk in the previous conference, it’s easy to get caught up in the how and what of the gospel and forget the why of the gospel. At times we get so caught up in the shoulds and should-nots that life, and how it reflects on those around us, becomes governed by this sense of check-list worthiness.

When our neighbors fall short of this list, it’s easy to stand in judgment. Yet the “higher” law or rather the why part of the law reflects on the greatest commandments: Love God with all heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself.

I suppose it’s a measure of our standing on the progression spectrum, as to how we view each other. When we can view each other not as lesser beings on the path to perfection but as equals in need of the same mercy, we can start to apply the love of God not only in our life but also in those around us.

When we master charity we will never need to preach another sermon or send another missionary. Our very lives will be the beacon that draws others to us. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not even close to mastering my irritations let alone charity, but there is hope through Christ that someday I can rise above the mortal foibles that bar me from accessing the divine within me and the divine within my neighbor.

If you haven’t had the chance to read Elder Bednar’s talk in the most recent April Ensign issue, it’s a stunner.

 He quotes from the Bible dictionary:

“It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means…”

His own words provide an insight into the Atonement I’d not yet considered:

“The journey of mortality is to go from bad to good to better and to have our very natures changed. The Book of Mormon is replete with examples of disciples and prophets who knew, understood, and were transformed by the enabling power of the Atonement in making that journey. As we come to better understand this sacred power, our gospel perspective will be greatly enlarged and enriched. Such a perspective will change us in remarkable ways.”

So what does that mean to me? It means that the atonement not only absolves my sins but also helps me rise above them and above my mortal weaknesses in becoming something I otherwise could not accomplish on my own. Perhaps becoming a “super-hero” of sorts isn’t so far fetched.

I read a book called Mafia to Mormon about a former mafia member who converted to the gospel. I saw a CD of music done by a former prostitute who joined the church. What heroic transformations they must have made, yet all of us, regardless of the gravity of our sins are in the same boat.

If we truly believe in the Atonement then we can believe that even the vilest of sinners can have the change of heart necessary to embrace the teachings of Christ they once may have defied. Like the Nephites who mocked the sons of Mosiah for preaching to the Lamanites, we may have decided that some people just aren’t worth teaching. Yet the Lamanites did change in droves and became even more stalwart in their application of gospel teachings than those who once mocked their depravity. 

How was this possible? I suppose because the missionaries teaching them were once in a worse state and knew by personal experience that change through Christ was not only possible but ever present for any who sought to pluck it up.

As vice spirals out of control and people once caught up in it seek refuge, will they find a safe home within the walls of our wards? Will smokers be sitting in the pews and former antagonizers conducting the meetings? I hope I can see the day where that is common. As for now, I need to work on my own foibles and shortcomings to ensure that I will be worthy to be part of such change.

9 comments:

  1. This should be recommended reading to every single member of the Church. So spot-on! I'm a convert whose parents smoked--my hair and clothing smelled wretched because of their habit, not mine. How thankful I am that there were LDS girls who offered their friendship and love to me, which changed my life! My husband and I are both converts and sometimes I am put-off by the holier-than-thou CULTURE of lifetime members of the Church. The can behave as though this is a private members only club instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. I enjoyed Pres Bednar's talks and his counsel for us...the Gospel has the power to help us become our best selves if we allow it to do so.
    Thanks so much!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words and for taking time out to comment! I appreciate the feedback immensely.

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  2. This is awesome. I especially love this part: "if we don’t have people in our chapel smelling of smoke, we’re not doing our job. Meaning that if everyone sitting in our chapel looks the picture of the “perfect” Mormon, we’re not reaching out to the people who most need the gospel." This made me want to be SUCH a better missionary ... I'm not great at it, I must admit. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

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    1. Thank you very much for your comment!

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    2. P.S. I tried to post a big thank you to you on your site but I couldn't get the comments to work--still not so great at all the tech, but I just wanted to express a deep appreciation for posting the link to my article. Thank you very much.

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  3. Love this! We are all definitely a work in progress, some transgressions are just more visible than others. It only matters what direction we're heading!!

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  4. Thank you for putting together some of the most important messages men and women of the world all need to hear. I hope you will not mind if I share it with some members here in Germany. Thank you, Elder W.

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I know life is busy, so I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Thanks!