Publicans and Sinners

It has been quite some time since I have fired up this blog, but stay tuned!  I have accumulated quite a list of topics and essays that I hope to share in the coming weeks and months.  Unfortunately, this subject is not one that I had planned to write about.

A couple of weeks ago I learned about a young man in my former LDS stake (the Austin, Texas Stake) who has been summoned for a disciplinary council.  Kyle went to his singles ward twice when he moved to Austin in 2012.  Two years later his bishop, whom he had not met previously, texted him asking him to come in for an interview.  In Kyle’s words, this is what followed:

“He asked me why I wasn’t coming to church, I told him it was difficult going to church as a gay man, and he asked if I had broken covenants. I told him I had (I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 2 years) and he started talking about a disciplinary council. This was all within 10 or 15 minutes of meeting him.  I met with that bishop twice for a total of 1 hour, and I met with the stake president once for 30 minutes. That’s all the contact they’ve had with me.”

I expect that this blog entry will be mostly read by a small community of my friends and family, most of whom are faithful members of the LDS Church. I do not wish to debate the validity of the Church’s views on homosexuality here.  All I will say on that subject is that it is anything but simple for Mormons, and current teachings require us to walk a very fine line when it comes to responding to these issues as they arise in our personal lives.

My hope is that other members of my faith can agree with me that disciplinary action is not a first step.  It is a last resort that cannot be properly exercised unless all other efforts to help someone have been made.  Unfortunately, I do not believe this to be the case with Kyle.

I have written the following email to my friends in the Austin Stake presidency and high council.  Kyle’s disciplinary council is scheduled to occur this Sunday, May 31.  The question of justice and mercy is a vexing one.  My belief is that when in doubt, we should err on the side of mercy.  Email below.

Dear friends,

I am writing you this email after having recently learned about the pending disciplinary council to be held for Kyle [______].  Kyle is openly gay, and has not attended church for some time.

As I have struggled to find the words to write, my mind keeps returning to the following scripture from the fifth chapter of Luke.  The scripture recounts a moment when Jesus was challenged for his association with publicans and sinners.

“And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

I have sometimes heard it said at Church that the atonement of Christ is beyond our mortal comprehension. In some ways, it certainly is when we ponder its infinite power.  However, the manner in which the atonement works in our lives is no secret:

“For behold, my beloved bretheren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.  He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. . . .”  2 Ne. 26:23-24.

The atonement was not a work of darkness.  His infinite power is the simple power of perfect love, and may be comprehended by anyone who has felt love.  The Savior’s love draws us to Him.

But the thing about love is that it must be expressed. Indeed, like faith, love does not exist where it is not expressed.  And to express love, we must know someone. We must spend time with them and make them a part of our lives.

Like everyone else, I have experienced moments of terrible darkness.  For me, these moments have come when I have felt that God was displeased with me and would not associate with me because of my sins. Imagine the light and warmth I felt when I came to understand that God really does love sinners.  He seeks their company.  He eats with them.  He stays at their homes.  As the “Son of Man,” he seeks to be counted among them.

I hope that you will consider other alternatives to excommunication for Kyle.  I hope you will instead consider inviting him to church as a member of the flock.  I hope you will consider taking the time to get to know him and associate with him.  I hope you will act in such a way that Kyle will feel “drawn” to you and the members of the [________] ward.  I hope your actions will reflect those of the Savior in Palestine, which caused the Pharisees and scribes to ask, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?

With love and regard,

Jeff

JN

To the Moon and Back

You will not meet a more delightful person than Grandma Lloyd.  I remember President Hinckley once said that sarcasm was an insulting form of humor.  Obviously, he had never met Grandma.  Her gracious sense of humor made my world turn at times, and always kept me on my toes.

In my younger years, she lived just across the street, and we would stop in to visit almost daily.  She always had a homemade chocolate cake on a platter in the kitchen.  But it was not the cake that drew us there.  She was magnetic.  She understood children so well, and she made us feel completely safe.  My fondest memories are of watching her tap dance as she would sing some old tune.  She would hold her hands out daintily and look intently at us, smiling broadly, as she tapped back and forth across the entry way tile, unfazed by our embarrassed giggles.

She was a worrier, and hated the thought of us crossing busy 9400 South.  We would ignore her pleas to cross at the traffic light down the street.  If ever we would come by in the morning, she would scurry out in her mumu (she loved those things), and guide us across the busy road amid her worried screams.

I also loved to watch Grandma interact with her three sons.  The three of them were keenly aware of Grandma’s anxious manner, which would cause her to sometimes disregard common sense.  My uncles had a playful way of preying on her naievete.  This ritual seemed to be their way of reminding each other just how deeply (and blindly) Grandma loved them.

Grandma had her signature ways of expressing her love, marked, of course, by hyperbole.  She would always call me “Jeffer”, and say to us, “I love your guts,” or “I love you to the moon and back.”

She passed away last Sunday morning.  I flew in to Salt Lake just in time to spend a treasured Saturday with her.  I will not forget the way she locked her eyes on me as soon as I entered her bedroom.  It was a look I had seen a thousand times before.  Notwithstanding her physical limitations, the day was full of precious exchanges–trademark expressions that I had taken for granted so many dozens of times before that day.  Every moment was utterly delightful.  But hidden among those lovely smiles, I would see from time to time a muted glance or a furrowed brow, and it made me wonder just how much she was enduring in that frail little body of hers.  The doctors had sent her home with morphine, but she knew that while it would help with the pain, it would also compromise her ability to engage.  When we asked how she was doing, she would respond with a simple, “I’m okay,” as if to say, “this is worth it.”

I am richly blessed with countless delightful memories of Grandma Lloyd.  But none will sink as deeply as those last moments at Grandma’s bedside.  Love is easy to express most of the time.  Love expressed in sacrifice convicts the conscience.

To the Moon and Back

Dimly through the glass, I see her lying bravely there.
Each smirk a costly gem, each smile a priceless token.
Meekly now, I clasp her hand, and as her eyes meet mine,
I read the verses never penned, the sermons never spoken.

In a subtle flash I sense the strain that assails her little frame.
But from her cup she did not shrink, nor did her will contend.
Deeply now, her love abides, and there it will endure;
In agony she sealed me hers, to the moon and back again.

JN

His Own Smiles

Last night my son went to bed upset.  As the oldest child and the only boy, he gets picked on by his mom and dad more than he should.  He also gets left out by his two younger sisters, who tend to be more interested in pretending to be puppies than in building with Legos.  The details are unimportant, but it was these circumstances that caused him to be so upset last night.

After I put the girls to bed, I returned to Jackson’s room, where I made a half-hearted attempt to cheer him up.  (Inwardly, I felt no sympathy for him since I felt he was being irrational—a common mistake of mine when responding to others’ problems.)  He would not shake off his own discontent, so I ended the ritual quite abruptly with a terse “goodnight” and left the room, hoping to teach him a silent lesson about “attitude”.

A few minutes later I had already settled into bed with a book, when Liz came in and asked how bedtime went.  Feeling a twinge of guilt, but not wanting to swallow my own pride, I told Liz that Jackson was still upset, and that he might like a visit from her.  Minutes later, Jackson entered my room with this peace offering (unsolicited by Liz):

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I’m still trying to dissect my emotions, but the feeling that seems to overshadow them all is pure awe.  Here, Jackson, a real person who feels stress, anxiety, hope, love, disappointment, and anger, just like me (I tend to forget this fact about my children), bravely set aside all of his frustrations with his own marginalized family situation, out of concern for my own emotional welfare.

I believe that parenthood is a sacred relationship that is designed to teach us about our relationship with our heavenly parents.  As I have cared for my children, I have felt that quiet assurance that my heavenly parents love me the same way I love my kids.   Frankly, while nevertheless special, I expected to have these experiences.  What I did not expect, however, is the converse experience of having that same humbling feeling at times when my child expresses his or her love for me, as Jackson did last night—yes, God loves me as I love my children, but God also loves me as my children love me.

Now this picture, drawn by a forlorn seven-year-old, 30 minutes past his bedtime with only a night light to aid him, means much more.  It represents the way God, a real person who feels marginalized by those He loves, whose sole desire is our acceptance, sets aside His own feelings of hurt, sadness, and frustration, to express His love for us notwithstanding our own callousness.

This humbling thought reminds me of some stanzas from a poem by William Blake:

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me,

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are His own smiles,
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.

JN