It’s remarkable to me that I ever wrote a daily blog because this week has been a real challenge, so far as writing is concerned. Every time I sit down to type something, somebody starts tugging on my arm and demanding that I pour them some juice. I swear, if I had a nickel for every cup of juice I’ve poured in my caregiving career, I could afford to hire a full-time servant just to pour juice. And today, when it wasn’t the juice, it was my husband calling to say he’d forgotten his car keys and could I please bring them to him because he had an appointment. And then when I got there, he said he’d gotten a call from a friend of ours who was stranded in a parking lot with a dead battery and needed a ride home, so after I left the husband to his appointment-getting-to, I went and picked up the friend and dropped him home, and I’ve just now returned. It’s just one thing after another.
You know what this means, of course, all these obstacles standing between me and my blogging. It must be the work of the Adversary. Satan obviously does not want me to write this blog. Either that, or it’s the Spirit suggesting that I should spend less time on trivial pursuits and more on selfless service. Tough call, really. Golly, discernment is hard.
Which brings me to today’s topic. That last paragraph ended differently, originally. I wasn’t going to say, “Discernment is hard.” I was going to say something flippant and irreverent. Funny, though. That’s what I thought, when I typed it and chuckled inwardly. “Heh heh, that’s funny—but no, I can’t say that, that’s offensive.” But I only deemed it too offensive because this is a Mormon blog. If this were my personal blog, I would have just said it and not really cared that I was being offensive because heck, it’s my blog and I’ll say what I want, darn it. (That sentence was originally different, too.) But I’m a guest here, and while I’m not calling you all a bunch of squares, I know that many BCC readers expect a certain level of propriety and inoffensiveness, and I’d hate to be so gauche on only my third day.
But it’s a shame, because it would have been funny. Not laugh-so-hard-you-have-to-talk-to-your-bishop-afterward funny, but so-wrong-it’s-right laughter, maybe. I was about to say that I hate censoring myself, but that isn’t really true. I censor myself all the time, and I consider it one of my finer qualities. Not everything that I think is worth saying—meaning that it’s not worth the consequences of me saying it. Self-censorship is one of the skills my oldest child most sorely lacks, and I have to say, that lack is only charming so much of the time. Self-censorship is a skill we should all strive to develop. When you’re sitting there wondering, “Should I say this or not say this?” the correct answer is almost always, “Don’t say it.” I stand by that statement. Which is good, because it’s too late for me not to say it.
Self-censorship for the sake of peace or for the sake of avoiding giving offense has its downside, though. Mormons do a lot of self-censoring, but not necessarily at all the appropriate times. I sometimes think that Mormons are most prone to self-censor at those moments when self-expression is most needed. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read on the Bloggernaccle about people having to rein themselves in during Sunday School or quorum or Relief Society lessons and not say what they’re really thinking because they don’t want to cause trouble or controversy or offense. The result is that the lessons and discussions go very smoothly, but the self-censoring person feels frustrated and alone, and who knows how many of the other people in the room—also self-censoring–are feeling the same way. Officially, everyone agrees and difficult issues always have resolutions. But in reality, an opportunity has been missed—an opportunity for people to seek support for their struggles, or to help those who are struggling; an opportunity to connect with one another and not feel alone.
One might argue that there’s a time and place for voicing one’s concerns or personal theories, which may be controversial and possibly distract people from the main thrust of the lesson, or even hinder the Spirit. Certainly we don’t want our Gospel Doctrine class to turn into a bad episode of Oprah. (If church must be an episode of Oprah, it should be one of those where everyone gets a new car, or at least a free makeover.) Maybe there are more appropriate venues for talking about controversial matters. Unfortunately, the opportunities for discussing certain topics don’t present themselves that often, and when they do, it seems a pity to sacrifice a potentially edifying conversation for propriety’s sake.
I know—the reason we avoid controversy is that such conversations are so often not edifying. You don’t need to explain that to me. When we were first married, my husband and I were in a ward with a woman who had converted from the RLDS church, and she had many controversial opinions, few of which could be justified by scripture or current counsel. In addition, she was extremely outspoken. Let’s call her Sister DP (Difficult Person). Sister DP would often dominate a testimony meeting or a Sunday School class, contending with people on a certain doctrinal point. It wasn’t pleasant to witness, really. Actually, it was tiresome. We had nothing but sympathy for the poor Gospel Doctrine teacher who had the unfortunate task of steering the discussion back on topic without offending Sister DP. One Sunday the class was talking about the principle of tithing, and this woman started going off about the widow’s mite and how it was wrong to expect people to pay a full tithe when they couldn’t afford it, and there was contention but also a whole lot of people just not engaging the subject because she was so fixed in her opinion and no one wanted to deal with her. At one point I got up and walked out because the whole thing was making me crazy. (And I like controversy.)
The following Sunday when we met for Gospel Doctrine, Sister DP wasn’t there, and our teacher took the opportunity to do something I’d never seen done in church before. This man–the most mild-mannered and inoffensive man you can imagine–rebuked us for our treatment of Sister DP the previous week. It wasn’t just the people who argued with her that he took to task, but also the people who just sat there and kept their heads down, maybe rolled their eyes, or yes, even walked out, because they didn’t want to deal with her. Maybe if we had listened more and been less concerned with the inappropriateness of her behavior or the incorrectness of her views, we could have helped her because obviously, there was genuine struggle and pain there. We wanted to banish that pain from our midst and not let it corrupt the spirit of our meeting. Was that what our Savior required? What would Jesus have done?
I’ve been leaving links to my BCC posts on my personal blog, and some of my regular readers, most of whom aren’t Mormons themselves, have read what I’ve written here and commented over there. One of them said, “I never realized that any Mormon ever had faith issues.” Certainly there are a lot of Mormons who are very confident in and comfortable with their faith, and God bless them—well, I guess He already has. But I’m rather dismayed that this image of us prevails, knowing that we cultivate it, grudgingly or not.
Maybe it’s a by-product of our American roots, this rugged spiritual individualism—the insistence on hashing out our problems privately, not sharing our experiences until they’ve been thoroughly processed and packaged for something Ensign-worthy. In any case, the same culprit is behind our failure to produce great literature: there must be a happy ending, and please, no lurid details. Don’t dwell on the darkness, but look for the light.
I realize this seems like preaching to the choir, as the Bloggernaccle has a reputation for letting it all hang out. But it’s easy to be candid and honest on the internet—just as it’s easy to be a jerk on the internet–due to our relative anonymity here. In real life, it’s harder—but not less important. Maybe it’s more important. Do you know how good it feels to walk into someone else’s house and see that it’s just as messy as yours? That’s a service I’m happy to provide for others: Come on over to my house, and you’re sure to feel better about yourself! I should be so generous with my soul.