A while back I had the chance to have a conversation with some friends about how and why we sometimes seek to delegitimize others. In that conversation one of them brought up the question of the differing ways that one can judge. There is judging as discerning and seeking to understand as a judge would do in a court case, and there is the simple minded rejection of that which is different from what we are used to. The scriptures teach us that we need to be extremely careful in the ways that we judge in a story of the wheat and the tares. We need to be careful to make sure that we do not zealously rip out wheat that we have mistook for tears. I believe that this is so important to remember particularly because we are also taught that God is actually the one who will be providing that final judgment.
In talking about judgment Sister Okazaki taught an important lesson that helps us see the act of judging in an even more productive way. She said, “Judging yourself and judging others because of them is not okay. Judging is such an important job that God the Father reserves it to his Son for the last day–and promises even then that Jesus will be our advocate. You don’t have to judge another. You don’t even have to judge yourself. Just do you best. We need diversity. We need differences.”
I loved being in a singles ward. I know that there are a lot of people who do not enjoy that experience, but I felt that it was really fun to have so many people together who happened to be in similar places in their lives. However one of the difficulties that could rise was the fact that many of us were young, and thus sometimes the dialogue in Sunday school and in other meetings could be a little immature. I had one experience where we were in Elders Quorum, and before the lesson began, some of the members of our quorum were joking and for what seemed like an extremely long time they made fun of the great and abominable church which they deemed to be the Catholic Church, as well as made comments about other religions. I am also sad to say that this has not been the only time that I have heard these times of comments in a church setting.
However I feel that most people do not feel this way, and can recognize the incredible amount of good and truth that other religions have, and yet I think more common is an uncomfortable ambivalence in how we are to act towards those who believe differently from ourselves. My hope is that as we attempt to be good friends and neighbors, we can move past this need to make ourselves better than others, and instead seek merely to be kind and loving towards those in our lives. Sister Okazaki made a great related point when she asked the following question. “How . . . do we put the Savior first without putting down other people or their religions? We don’t have to insist on being right all the time. When my parents drank tea, I sat with them and drank hot water. Make compromises. Find ways to Minimize the areas of conflict. Don’t retaliate. After all, you want your family to see that you’re a better, happier person as a result of belonging to the Church.”
Don’t get me wrong. I was extremely thrilled to have the opportunity to serve my mission in Brazil. I quickly fell in love with the people, the language, and the food of that wonderful country. However I simultaneous felt various tensions, because I was extremely fond of the United Sates. I had pajama bottoms with American flags on them, I loved to speak in English with American missionaries, and in the rare times that American politics were brought up I felt extremely defensive as if I had a duty to defend the country that I loved. I was aware that I was not a missionary for the USA, but I was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ. However because I was raised in the ways that I was, I was not as open to seeing various aspects of Brazil that I could have benefited from.
This was similar with the American cultural aspects of the church. I had a difficulty recognizing the difference between culture and the gospel, and thus there were times where I felt the need to reel in members of the church who were engaging in the church in different ways than had been done in the USA. And again because I was so willing to stick to the boundaries and the ways I had done things before I feel like I may have missed the opportunity to learn some very valuable lessons from the members I was working with.
This is a lesson that I believe Chieko Okazaki taught extremely well when she said “One of the greatest lessons the Savior taught is that boundaries exist to be crossed. . . . What do we do with differences? Do they paralyze us, or can they become part of the beauty of our lives? What are we teaching our children about the beauty of diversity? Are we teaching them that boundaries are barriers, or are we teaching them that a boundary means an opportunity for wonderful explorations in diversity?”
I recently attended a conference where topics relating to Mormonism were being discussed. For a different project I decided that I would record myself asking questions to some of the people I met in the halls. One of my questions was “What is one of your favorite aspects of Mormonism?” I was so impressed by the responses, and one of the responses that I most loved was the amount of people who answered by saying community is their favorite part. Mormonism offers something special in regards to community, which I believe is so important due to the need that we all have to belong.
I believe that it is so vital that we recognize that particularly in the church, we all need each other. It can be so easy to fall into clicks, and to only associate with those who are like us, but I believe the Gospel pushes us towards something different. It pushes us to reaching for those who need our help vs. moving quickly along in order to do a different good. The gospel pushes us away from selfishness and I believe that if we take it seriously we will be able to learn how to better live and love.
Sister Oscarson has taught us that “The fact of the matter is, we really and truly need each other. Women naturally seek friendship, support, and companionship. We have so much to learn from one another, and we often let self-imposed barriers keep us from enjoying associations which could be among the greatest blessings in our lives….If there are barriers, it is because we ourselves have created them. We must stop concentrating on our differences and look for what we have in common; then we can begin to realize our greatest potential and achieve the greatest good in this world.”
I once hear the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” quoted in a church setting. I have very serious critiques of this book, but I think that one thing which comes up when gender is discussed is the idea that we are different from each other. The descriptions that are usually given of gender specific descriptions of behavior rarely resonate with me, which could be because I am a typical. Either way, I do think that it is important to recognize on a higher level that each of us as individual human beings are different from one another, which brings up a serious need for us all to learn how to more effectively communicate with each other.
In a beautiful talk W. Craig Zwick described this by telling a story of miscommunication between him and his spouse, and it was fascinating to hear him describe how it is important that we as human beings start listening to each other. He said that “There exists today a great need for men and women to cultivate respect for each other across wide distances of belief and behavior and across deep canyons of conflicting agendas. It is impossible to know all that informs our minds and hearts or even to fully understand the context for the trials and choices we each face.
Nevertheless, what would happen to the “corrupt communication” Paul spoke about if our own position included empathy for another’s experience first? Fully owning the limits of my own imperfections and rough edges, I plead with you to practice asking this question, with tender regard for another’s experience: “What are you thinking?”